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J Surg Res. 2011 Nov;171(1):374-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2010.03.048. Epub 2010 May 21.

Chronic lithium impairs skin tolerance to ischemia in random-pattern skin flap of rats.

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Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran.



Despite its apparent anti-apoptotic effect, lithium impairs endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation in various tissues. In this study, we assessed the effect of lithium treatment on ischemic skin flap survival and its interaction with nitric oxide pathway.


Seventy-six male Sprague-Dawley rats were randomly assigned into 13 groups. For skin flap surgery, dorsal skin flap measuring 8 × 2 cm was elevated on the midline. After local injections (if needed), the cranial pedicle was cut and flap was sutured back. Flap survival was assessed after 7 d. Animals in the chronic lithium group received lithium chloride in tap water for 4 wk preoperatively and 7 d postoperatively. Acute lithium groups received 3 nmol, 10 nmol and 3 μmol/flap lithium locally. In another experiment, interaction with nitric oxide synthase inhibitor L-NAME as well as nitric oxide precursor L-arginine was studied, and the effect of ischemic preconditioning on skin flap survival in lithium treated rats was investigated.


Chronic lithium group had mean flap survival value of 32.6% ± 5.2% (mean ± SD), which was significantly lower than normal subjects (52.7% ± 6.1%, P < 0.001), while acute local lithium treatment had no effect. In chronic lithium group, systemic L-NAME (10 mg/kg, 30 min before flap elevation) failed to significantly decrease the survival, while sub-effective systemic L-arginine (100 mg/kg) and ischemic preconditioning significantly increased flap survival (P < 0.001 and P < 0.01, respectively).


We conclude that long-term lithium treatment impairs the skin tolerance to ischemia in rats, which seems to be nitric oxide mediated. This effect is prevented by ischemic preconditioning or L-arginine treatment. The results suggest that skin-involving interventions should be applied more cautiously in patients who are on lithium treatment.

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