Lithium Prevents Parkinson’s-Related Brain Damage

July 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Parkinson’s disease is an incurable, progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects 1 million Americans, and between 50,000 and 60,000 new cases are found annually. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s. It results in slowness of movement, rigidity, and tremors. PD is known to instigate cell loss, which often results in mild to acute brain damage.

Lithium has long been the gold standard for treatment of bipolar disorder. Now scientists at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging have discovered through rodent experimentation that Lithium also profoundly prevents the toxic protein aggregation that causes PD-related brain damage. Researchers at the Buck Institute are now ready to move into the preclinical stage to determine the correct dosages for the drug.

According to the June 24th edition of the Journal of Neuroscience Research, Buck researchers are working towards a Phase II human clinical study, using Lithium in concurrence with customary PD therapy. Lead author, Professor Julie Anderson, Ph.D., explains, “The fact that Lithium’s safety profile in humans is well understood greatly reduces trial risk.” Anderson explains that Lithium has significant anti-aging effects in animals. She mentions that, in contrast to the neurodegenerative properties of conditions such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Amyotrophical Lateral Sclerosis, Lithium has recently been suggested to be neuroprotective.

Although overuse of Lithium has been known to cause hyperthyroidism and kidney toxicity, low dosages of the drug were given to the mice used in the Buck experimentation. Anderson remarks, “The possibility that Lithium could be effective in PD patients at subclinical levels is exciting, because it would avoid many side effects associated at the higher dose range.”

Although the Buck Institute’s research is still pre-clinical, success in previous experiments regarding the use of Lithium in humans is a predictor of future success in the case of patients with PD. In fact, research shows that many PD patients are already using Lithium, “off label,” in conjunction with their normal PD treatment regime. Also, Lithium salt supplements are available in some health food stores.

The familiarity of Lithium provides a better chance for the Buck Institute’s exploration with the drug. As Anderson explains, Lithium’s popularity, “lowers a significant hurdle to getting it into the clinic.”



Works Cited

“Lithium Profoundly Prevents Brain Damage Associated with Parkinson’s Disease”. (June 24, 2011). Neuroscience News. February 15, 2012.


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