The mechanism by which lithium (Li(+)) inhibits the protein kinase glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3) is unknown. Here, we demonstrate that Li(+) is a competitive inhibitor of GSK-3 with respect to magnesium (Mg(2+)), but not to substrate or ATP. This mode of inhibition is conserved between mammalian and Dictyostelium GSK-3 isoforms, and is not experienced with other group I metal ions. As a consequence, the potency of Li(+) inhibition is dependent on Mg(2+) concentration. We also found that GSK-3 is sensitive to chelation of free Mg(2+) by ATP and is progressively inhibited when ATP concentrations exceed that of Mg(2+). Given the cellular concentrations of ATP and Mg(2+), our results indicate that Li(+) will have a greater effect on GSK-3 activity in vivo than expected from in vitro studies and this may be a factor relevant to its use in the treatment of depression.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.