Lithium Grows New Brain Cells
U.S. neuroscientists have shown lithium increases the amount of gray matter in the brains of patients suffering from bipolar disorder.
UCLA professors Carrie Bearden and Paul Thompson used three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging to map the entire surface of the brain in people diagnosed with bipolar illness — an illness marked by alternating episodes of mania and depression.
When the researchers compared the brains of bipolar patients on lithium with those of people without the disorder and those of bipolar patients not on lithium, they found the volume of gray matter in the brains of those on lithium was as much as 15 percent higher in areas that are critical for attention and controlling emotions.
The neurobiological underpinnings of bipolar disorder are not well understood. Nor is it understood how lithium — long the standard treatment for the illness — works in controlling the severe mood swings.
The findings suggest lithium might work by increasing the amount of gray matter in particular brain areas that might be underused or dysfunctional.
The research is featured in the July issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry and is currently available online.