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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Nov;36(12):2406-21. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.128. Epub 2011 Jul 27.

Combined treatment with the mood stabilizers lithium and valproate produces multiple beneficial effects in transgenic mouse models of Huntington's disease.

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  • 1Section on Molecular Neurobiology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1363, USA.


Emerging evidence suggests that the mood stabilizers lithium and valproate (VPA) have broad neuroprotective and neurotrophic properties, and that these occur via inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) and histone deacetylases (HDACs), respectively. Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder characterized by impaired movement, cognitive and psychiatric disturbances, and premature death. We treated N171-82Q and YAC128 mice, two mouse models of HD varying in genetic backgrounds and pathological progressions, with a diet containing therapeutic doses of lithium, VPA, or both. Untreated, these transgenic mice displayed a decrease in levels of GSK-3β serine 9 phosphorylation and histone H3 acetylation in the striatum and cerebral cortex around the onset of behavioral deficits, indicating a hyperactivity of GSK-3β and HDACs. Using multiple well-validated behavioral tests, we found that co-treatment with lithium and VPA more effectively alleviated spontaneous locomotor deficits and depressive-like behaviors in both models of HD mice. Furthermore, compared with monotherapy with either drug alone, co-treatment more successfully improved motor skill learning and coordination in N171-82Q mice, and suppressed anxiety-like behaviors in YAC128 mice. This combined treatment consistently inhibited GSK-3β and HDACs, and caused a sustained elevation in striatal as well as cortical brain-derived neurotrophic factor and heat shock protein 70. Importantly, co-treatment markedly prolonged median survival of N171-82Q mice from 31.6 to 41.6 weeks. Given that there is presently no proven treatment for HD, our results suggest that combined treatment with lithium and VPA, two mood stabilizers with a long history of safe use in humans, may have important therapeutic potential for HD patients.

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