May 22, 2003
Lithium, a pill long used to smooth out the manic highs and depressive lows of bipolar disorder (manic depression), showed promise in protecting against the ravages of Alzheimer's disease, a preliminary new report suggests.
The report, in the May 22 issue of the scientific journal Nature, found that in test tube studies, the drug blocked molecules implicated in the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, two hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.
In addition, in studies in mice, lithium reduced levels of beta amyloid, the sticky protein that forms the amyloid plaques and chokes off brain cells. Many scientists believe that amyloid plaques lie at the root of Alzheimer's disease, although nobody knows why they accumulate in some people and not others, robbing the minds and memories of those afflicted.
Old age can produce physical frailty that some may mistake for general impairment. But more commonly, many older people can continue to live independently.
This study suggests that lithium and related drugs may open up a new avenue for research into the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. What may be effective in test tubes or in animal studies, however, often does not prove beneficial in people. It will likely be many years before doctors will know whether lithium truly works in people afflicted with Alzheimer's.
By Toby Bilanow, Medical Writer, for www.ALZinfo.org. The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Samuel E. Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation.