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J Neurosci. 2005 Sep 14;25(37):8375-85.

Neuroprotective mechanisms of lithium in murine human immunodeficiency virus-1 encephalitis.

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  • 1Center for Neurovirology and Neurodegenerative Disorders, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska 68198-5880, USA.


Lithium (Li) has garnered considerable interest as a neuroprotective drug for a broad range of nervous system disorders. Its neuroprotective activities occur as a consequence of glycogen synthase kinase-3beta (GSK-3beta) inhibition leading to downstream blockade of beta-catenin and Tau phosphorylation. In the present study, we investigated Li-mediated neuroprotective mechanisms in laboratory and murine human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) encephalitis (HIVE) models. In laboratory tests, Li protected neurons from neurotoxic secretions of HIV-1-infected monocyte-derived macrophages (MDMs). This neuroprotection was mediated, in part, through the phosphatidyl inositol 3-kinase/Akt and GSK-3beta pathways. To examine the effects of Li treatment in vivo, MDMs were injected into the basal ganglia of severe combined immunodeficient mice and then Li was administered (60 mg/kg/d). Seven days after MDM injection, mice were killed and CNS tissue was collected and subjected to immunocytochemical and Western blot assays for leukocyte and neural antigens, GSK-3beta, and key kinase substrates such as beta-catenin and Tau. Numbers of HIV-1 p24 antigen-positive MDMs were unaltered by Li treatment of HIVE mice. Similarly, the greatly increased extent of astrocyte and microglia activation in HIVE mice (10-fold and 16-fold, respectively, compared with unmanipulated controls) was also unaltered by Li. In contrast, Li restored HIVE-associated loss of microtubule-associated protein-2-positive neurites and synaptic density while reducing levels or activity of phospho-Tau Ser202, phospho-beta-catenin, and GSK-3beta. Electrophysiological recordings showed diminished long-term potentiation in hippocampal slices of HIVE mice that were restored by Li. Based on these data, the use of Li as an adjuvant for HIV-1-associated dementia is now being pursued.

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