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March 30, 2005

Genes affected by Lithium

A recent study identifies the genes that may be activated by lithium.

While lithium treatment has proven effective for treating bipolar disorder (BPD), the drug is also associated with hypothyroidism, tremors, cognitive impairment, excessive thirst and urination and weight gain.

Researchers led by Philip Brandish of Merck & Co and Edward Scolnick of the Broad Institute (formerly of Merck) have identified genes that appear to be activated by lithium, suggesting more direct targets for drugs to treat the disorder, with fewer side effects.

The studies were published in the 24th March issue of Neuron (2005;45:861-872). Lithium is known to inhibit the production of an important cellular switch, called inositol monophosphate. The researchers aimed to find genes that were activated by this inhibition, by treating slices of rat brain with lithium chloride as well as a chemical that depletes inositol. The research group discovered several genes that suggest new directions toward the treatment of BPD. The behaviour of one such activated gene, called GPR88, has been found to be associated with a rat model of mania.

This research is good news for those with bipolar disorder - suggesting new and better treatments are on the way.

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