Mystery of lithium action solved
The mechanism by which lithium works to reduce inflammation in the brain has been discovered in a study on rats.
Inflammation in the brain may lead to conditions such as bipolar disorder or Alzheimer's disease. Lithium has been used to successfully treat excessive brain inflammation in the manic phase of bipolar disorder, although exactly how the chemical achieved this was poorly understood.
Researchers tackled this puzzle by studying the brains of rats that were stressed a result of brain inflammation, and comparing them to a control group of healthy rats. After they were treated with lithium for six weeks, the stressed rats showed lower levels of arachidonic acid in the brain, which is known to cause inflammation. They scientists also observed increased levels of an anti inflammatory compound, usually found in aspirin, made from an omega-3 fatty acid.
Discovering lithium's double effect in reducing inflammation and increasing anti inflammatory compounds now makes it an ideal drug to treat excessive inflammation. With this better understanding of the treatment, scientists speculate that lithium could have more uses in medicine.