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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Jul 20;96(15):8745-50.

Lithium activates the serine/threonine kinase Akt-1 and suppresses glutamate-induced inhibition of Akt-1 activity in neurons.

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Section on Molecular Neurobiology, Biological Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1272, USA.


This report describes a modulatory action of lithium and glutamate on the activity of serine/threonine kinase Akt-1. Lithium is most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, but the mechanism of its therapeutic action remains unknown. We have recently demonstrated that lithium protects against glutamate-induced excitotoxicity in cultured brain neurons and in an animal model of cerebral ischemia. This study was undertaken to investigate the role of Akt-1, activated by the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI 3-K) signaling pathway, in mediating glutamate excitotoxicity and lithium protection in cerebellar granule cells. High levels of phosphorylation and activity of Akt-1 were detected in cerebellar neurons cultured in the presence of serum. Protracted treatment with selective PI 3-K inhibitors, wortmannin and LY294002, abolished Akt-1 activity and induced neuronal death that could be reduced by long-term lithium pretreatment. Exposure of cells to glutamate induced a rapid and reversible loss of Akt-1 phosphorylation and kinase activity. These effects were closely correlated with excitotoxicity and caspase 3 activation and were prevented by phosphatase inhibitors, okadaic acid and caliculin A. Long-term lithium pretreatment suppressed glutamate-induced loss of Akt-1 activity and accelerated its recovery toward the control levels. Lithium treatment alone induced rapid increase in PI 3-K activity, and Akt-1 phosphorylation with accompanying kinase activation, which was blocked by PI 3-K inhibitors. Lithium also increased the phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3), a downstream physiological target of Akt. Thus, modulation of Akt-1 activity appears to play a key role in the mechanism of glutamate excitotoxicity and lithium neuroprotection.

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