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Jul 11, 2016 09:26 AM EDT

MIT Biologists Discover A Possible Answer To Why Lithium Helps Bipolar Patients!

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Since the 1970's, doctors in the United States have recommended lithium for those suffering from bipolar disorder. Although the drug has a commendable success rate, scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it acquires its advantageous effects.

Lithium is among the most widely researched and used medications for dealing with bipolar disorder as it helps curbing the seriousness and recurrences of mania. In addition, it helps relieve or ward off bipolar depression.

But that's not all; studies have shown that lithium can considerably reduce suicide risk. It also helps to keep a lid on future manic and depression episodes. Thus, it may be recommended for quite a long period (even between episodes) as maintenance therapy, WebMD reported.

How Lithium Works

Biologists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have finally figured out what looks like a possible explanation for how lithium actually works. In a research centering on worms, the researchers found a decisive protein that is inhibited by lithium, which makes the worm sluggish.

The aforementioned behavioral effects observed in worms cannot be directly translated to humans, however the outcome hints a probable mechanism for lithium's effects on the brain, which the researchers are confident is worth delving into.

Lead author of the study and an MIT postdoc, Joshua Meisel noted that lithium's effect on the brain has been a mystery of psychopharmacology. Although there are hypotheses, nothing has been proven till date.

An associate professor of biology, Dennis Kim is the senior author of the paper, which was published in the July 7 issue of Current Biology.

Mysterious Effects

Back in 1949, an Australian psychiatrist John Cade discovered Lithium's ability to act as a tranquilizer for individuals suffering from bipolar disorder and mania. However, the drug was rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration until 1970.

Lithium collaborates with an array of molecules and proteins in the brain, thus determining which of these collaboration yields mood stabilization has been difficult for researchers.

Some of the considered targets encompass an enzyme produces inositol, an enzyme dubbed GSK3, which is responsible for inactivating other proteins and a simple sugar that's involved in cell signalling.

However, no studies have been able to decisively link these targets to effects that lithium have on bipolar patients, according to a post on MIT official website.

Interestingly, the MIT team did not intend to study lithium but accidentally fell upon while analyzing synergy between Caenorhabditis elegans and its microbial surrounding. The worm has a simple nervous system that boasts 302 neurons, majority of which appear in pairs.

In the research backed by the National Institutes of Health, scientists discovered that the selective impact of lithium on the nervous show that the this effect is reversible and mediated particularly via inhibition of BPNT-1.

Subsequently, the researchers confirmed that the selective effect of lithium on nervous system is due in part to the finite expression of the cytosolic sulfotransferase SSU-1 in the ASJ neuron pair.

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