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J Neurotrauma. 2012 Jan 20;29(2):362-74. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.1942. Epub 2011 Nov 1.

Lithium ameliorates neurodegeneration, suppresses neuroinflammation, and improves behavioral performance in a mouse model of traumatic brain injury.

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Section on Molecular Neurobiology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


Although traumatic brain injury (TBI) is recognized as one of the leading causes of death from trauma to the central nervous system (CNS), no known treatment effectively mitigates its effects. Lithium, a primary drug for the treatment of bipolar disorder, has been known to have neuroprotective effects in various neurodegenerative conditions such as stroke. Until this study, however, it has not been investigated as a post-insult treatment for TBI. To evaluate whether lithium could have beneficial effects following TBI, lithium at a dose of 1.5 mEq/kg was administered after injury. Assessed at 3 days and 3 weeks post-injury using hematoxylin and eosin staining, lithium treatment was found to reduce lesion volume. Lithium at doses of 2.0 and 3.0 mEq/kg also significantly reduced lesion volume at 3 days after injury, and the therapeutic window was at least 3 h post-injury. TBI-induced neuronal death, microglial activation, and cyclooxygenase-2 induction were all attenuated by lithium at 3 days after injury. In addition, lithium treatment reduced TBI-induced matrix metalloproteinase-9 expression and preserved the integrity of the blood-brain barrier. As for behavioral outcomes, lithium treatment reduced anxiety-like behavior in an open-field test, and improved short- and long-term motor coordination in rotarod and beam-walk tests. Lithium robustly increased serine phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase-3β (GSK-3β), suggesting that the underlying mechanisms responsible for lithium's protective effects are triggered by increasing phosphorylation of this kinase and thereby inhibiting its activity. Our results support the notion that lithium has heretofore unrecognized capacity to mitigate the neurodegenerative effects and improve functional outcomes in TBI.

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