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J Neurochem. 1999 Dec;73(6):2299-309.

Lithium activates the c-Jun NH2-terminal kinases in vitro and in the CNS in vivo.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan 48201, USA.


The therapeutic efficacy of lithium in the treatment of mood disorders is delayed and only observed after chronic administration, a temporal profile that suggests alterations at the genomic level. Lithium has been demonstrated to modulate AP-1 DNA binding activity as well as the expression of genes regulated by AP-1, but the mechanisms underlying these effects have not been fully elucidated. In the present study, we found that the lithium-induced increases in AP-1 DNA binding activity were accompanied by increases in p-cJun and cJun levels in SH-SY5Y cells. Lithium also increased cJun-mediated reporter gene expression in a dose-dependent manner, with significant effects observed at therapeutically relevant concentrations. Lithium's effects on cJun-mediated reporter gene expression in SH-SY5Y cells were more pronounced in the absence of myo-inositol and were blocked by protein kinase C (PKC) inhibitors and by cotransfection with a PKCalpha dominant-negative mutant. Chronic in vivo lithium administration increased AP-1 DNA binding activity in frontal cortex and hippocampus and also increased the levels of the phosphorylated, active forms of c-Jun NH2-terminal kinases (JNKs) in both brain regions. These results demonstrate that lithium activates the JNK signaling pathway in rat brain during chronic in vivo administration and in human cells of neuronal origin in vitro; in view of the role of JNKs in regulating various aspects of neuronal function and their well-documented role in regulating gene expression, these effects may play a major role in lithium's long-term therapeutic effects.

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