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Neurobiol Dis. 2012 Apr;46(1):101-8. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2011.12.050. Epub 2012 Jan 10.

Long-term oral lithium treatment attenuates motor disturbance in tauopathy model mice: implications of autophagy promotion.

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Department of Neurology, Juntendo University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan.


Lithium, a drug used to treat bipolar disorders, has a variety of neuroprotective mechanisms including inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3), a major tau kinase. Recently, it has been shown that, in various neurodegenerative proteinopathies, lithium could induce autophagy. To analyze how lithium is therapeutically beneficial in tauopathies, transgenic mice overexpressing human mutant tau (P301L) were treated with oral lithium chloride (LiCl) for 4 months starting at the age of 5 months. At first, we examined the effects of treatment on behavior (using a battery of behavioral tests), tau phosphorylation (by biochemical assays), and number of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) (by immunohistopathology). In comparison with control mice, LiCl-treated mice showed a significantly better score in the sensory motor tasks, as well as decreases in tau phosphorylation, soluble tau level, and number of NFTs. Next, we examined lithium effects on autophagy using an antibody against microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3) as an autophagosome marker. The number of LC3-positive autophagosome-like puncta was increased in neurons of LiCl-treated mice. Neurons containing NFTs were completely LC3-negative, whereas LC3-positive autophagosome-like puncta contained phosphorylated-tau (p-tau). The protein level of p62 was decreased in LiCl-treated mice. These data suggested that oral long-term lithium treatment could attenuate p-tau-induced motor disturbance not only by inhibiting GSK-3 but also by enhancing autophagy in tauopathy model mice.

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