Anti-bipolar therapy: Mechanism of action of lithium

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

353 Scopus citations


This review introduces the concepts that multiple actions of lithium are critical for its therapeutic effect, and that these complex effects stabilize neuronal activities, support neural plasticity, and provide neuroprotection. Three interacting systems appear most critical, (i) Modulation of neurotransmitters by lithium likely readjusts balances between excitatory and inhibitory activities, acid decreased glutamatergic activity may contribute to neuroprotection. (ii) Lithium modulates signals impacting on the cytoskeleton, a dynamic system contributing to neural plasticity, at multiple levels, including glycogen synthase kinase-3β, cyclic AMP-dependent kinase, and protein kinase C, which may be critical for the neural plasticity involved in mood recovery and stabilization. (iii) Lithium adjusts signaling activities regulating second messengers, transcription factors, and gene expression. The outcome of these effects appears likely to result in limiting the magnitudes of fluctuations in activities, contributing to a stabilizing influence induced by lithium, and neuroprotective effects may be derived from its modulation of gene expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • AP-1
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Glutamate
  • Inositol
  • Lithium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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