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J Neurosci. 2008 Mar 5;28(10):2576-88. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5467-07.2008.

Synergistic neuroprotective effects of lithium and valproic acid or other histone deacetylase inhibitors in neurons: roles of glycogen synthase kinase-3 inhibition.

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  • 1Molecular Neurobiology Section, Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1363, USA.


Lithium and valproic acid (VPA) are two primary drugs used to treat bipolar mood disorder and have frequently been used in combination to treat bipolar patients resistant to monotherapy with either drug. Lithium, a glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) inhibitor, and VPA, a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor, have neuroprotective effects. The present study was undertaken to demonstrate synergistic neuroprotective effects when both drugs were coadministered. Pretreatment of aging cerebellar granule cells with lithium or VPA alone provided little or no neuroprotection against glutamate-induced cell death. However, copresence of both drugs resulted in complete blockade of glutamate excitotoxicity. Combined treatment with lithium and VPA potentiated serine phosphorylation of GSK-3 alpha and beta isoforms and inhibition of GSK-3 enzyme activity. Transfection with GSK-3alpha small interfering RNA (siRNA) and/or GSK-3beta siRNA mimicked the ability of lithium to induce synergistic protection with VPA. HDAC1 siRNA or other HDAC inhibitors (phenylbutyrate, sodium butyrate or trichostatin A) also caused synergistic neuroprotection together with lithium. Moreover, combination of lithium and HDAC inhibitors potentiated beta-catenin-dependent, Lef/Tcf-mediated transcriptional activity. An additive increase in GSK-3 serine phosphorylation was also observed in mice chronically treated with lithium and VPA. Together, for the first time, our results demonstrate synergistic neuroprotective effects of lithium and HDAC inhibitors and suggest that GSK-3 inhibition is a likely molecular target for the synergistic neuroprotection. Our results may have implications for the combined use of lithium and VPA in treating bipolar disorder. Additionally, combined use of both drugs may be warranted for clinical trials to treat glutamate-related neurodegenerative diseases.

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