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Bipolar Disord. 2011 May;13(3):238-49. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-5618.2011.00915.x.

Lithium treatment attenuates muscarinic M(1) receptor dysfunction.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology and Experimental Therapeutics, Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.



Altered muscarinic acetylcholine receptor levels and receptor-coupled signaling processes have been reported in mood disorders. M(1) , one of five muscarinic receptor subtypes, couples to the phospholipase C/protein kinase C and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathways. Mood stabilizers regulate these pathways. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs that suppress translation in a sequence-selective manner. Lithium downregulates several miRNAs, including let-7b and let-7c. One predicted target of let-7b and let-7c is the M(1) receptor. We hypothesized that miRNAs regulate M(1) receptor translation, and that disrupted M(1) expression leads to aberrant behaviors and disrupted downstream signaling pathways that are rescued by lithium treatment.


The effects of miRNAs and chronic treatment with mood stabilizers on M(1) levels were tested in primary cultures and in rat frontal cortex. Effects of M(1) ablation and chronic treatment with mood stabilizers on several signaling cascades and M(1) -modulated behaviors were examined in wild-type and M(1) knockout mice.


  Let-7b, but not let-7c, negatively regulated M(1) levels. Chronic treatment with lithium, but not valproate, increased M(1) levels in the rat cortex. M(1) knockout mice exhibit ERK pathway deficits and behavioral hyperactivity; chronic treatment with lithium attenuated these deficits and hyperactivity.


Lithium treatment can affect M(1) receptor function through intracellular signaling enhancement and, in situations without M(1) ablation, concomitant receptor upregulation via mechanisms involving miRNAs. Muscarinic dysfunction may contribute to mood disorders, while M(1) receptors and the downstream ERK pathway may serve as potential therapeutic targets for alleviating manic symptoms such as psychomotor hyperactivity.

© 2011 John Wiley and Sons A/S.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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