Research suggests that lithium could play a role in minimizing the negative effects of radiation on the brain. The research was published in Molecular Psychiatry by scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden and has significant implications for cancer patients.
"In the past few years, pediatric oncology has become better at saving lives but does so at a high cost," commented Professor Klas Blomgren, who is a consultant at the institute's Department of Women's and Children's Health. "Virtually all children who have received radiation treatment for a brain tumor develop more or less serious cognitive problems. This can cause difficulties in learning or socializing and even holding down a job later in life."
Lithium is commonly used as a medication to treat bipolar disorder; now, however, its purposes may be extending as a post-radiation treatment. In the study, researchers gave young female mice lithium 4 weeks after receiving radiation throughout early adulthood. What the researchers found was that the mice who received radiation and subsequent lithium treatment showed the same levels of memory and learning as mice that had not experienced radiation. They postulated that this could be due to the new neuron formation in the hippocampus that they observed during lithium treatment administration.
Another of the study’s findings concluded that lithium did not affect healthy cells, only irradiated ones. This is a positive characteristic because it means lithium may be able to heal damage from radiation after it occurs.
Although it is still unclear how exactly lithium works in the brain, it is thought to influence two proteins called Tppp and GAD65. Tppp plays a role in cell shape, while GAD65 helps in regulating brain cell communication.
The team aims to forge forward in their investigations with future clinical trials. "We're only just beginning to understand lithium's effects on the brain's ability to repair itself," says one of the study’s authors, Ola Hermanson. Nevertheless, certain areas of lithium administration must be handled with caution, specifically, side-effects and administration schedule.