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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Nov 29;102(48):17406-11. Epub 2005 Nov 17.

Lrp5-independent activation of Wnt signaling by lithium chloride increases bone formation and bone mass in mice.

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Prostrakan Pharmaceuticals, 102 Route de Noisy, 93230 Romainville, France.


One of the well characterized cell biologic actions of lithium is the inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3beta and the consequent activation of canonical Wnt signaling. Because deficient Wnt signaling has been implicated in disorders of reduced bone mass, we tested whether lithium could improve bone mass in mice. We gavage-fed lithium chloride to 8-week-old mice from three different strains (Lrp5(-/-), SAMP6, and C57BL/6) and assessed the effect on bone metabolism after 4 weeks of therapy. Lrp5(-/-) mice lack the Wnt coreceptor low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 and have markedly reduced bone mass. Lithium, which is predicted to act downstream of this receptor, restored bone metabolism and bone mass to near wild-type levels in these mice. SAMP6 mice have accelerated osteoporosis due to inadequate osteoblast renewal. Lithium significantly improved bone mass in these mice and in wild-type C57BL/6 mice. We found that lithium activated canonical Wnt signaling in cultured calvarial osteoblasts from Lrp5(-/-) mice ex vivo and that lithium-treated mice had increased expression of Wnt-responsive genes in their bone marrow cells in vivo. These data lead us to conclude that lithium enhances bone formation and improves bone mass in mice and that it may do so via activation of the canonical Wnt pathway. Lithium has been used safely and effectively for over half a century in the treatment of bipolar illness. Prospective studies in patients receiving lithium should determine whether it also improves bone mass in humans.

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