Lithium for Mania
Since it was accidentally discovered almost 50 years ago that lithium s alts are suitable for treating the phases of excessive activity in manic-depressive disorders, the metal has played a major role in therapy. However, despite intensive research, the mechanism of action remained unknown. A team of scientists has now succeeded in proving the function of lithium, at least in cell cultures. One of the theories about lithium's therapeutic effects is that people with bipolar disorder produce too much of the neurotransmitter glutamate in their brains. The excess has a destructive effect on the nerve cells in the hippocampus, the brain region involved in mood development.
De-Maw Chuang and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental He alth wanted to test whether the lithium counteracts the oversupply of glutamate (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 3rd edition). March 1998). To do this, they conducted experiments on three different types of rat neurons, one found throughout the brain, one restricted to the cerebral cortex and the third specific to the hippocampus. After adding toxic amounts of glutamate, half of the cells died within one day in all three samples. In contrast, only every tenth cell of the neurons that had been treated with lithium for a week died. More detailed investigations showed that the protective effect of lithium is related to the NMDA glutamate receptor, which regulates the influx of calcium into the cell.
Since glutamate is also implicated in a number of brain diseases such as Huntington's, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, Chuang believes that treatment with lithium could potentially help in their therapy.
The Heidelberger Verlag Spektrum der Wissenschaft is the operator of this portal. Its online and print magazines, including "Spektrum der Wissenschaft", "Gehirn&Geist" and "Spektrum – Die Woche", report on current research findings.