We assessed the ability of lithium to reduce neurodegeneration and to stimulate cell proliferation in a rat model of Huntington's disease in which quinolinic acid (QA) was unilaterally infused into the striatum. LiCl (0.5-3.0 mEq/kg) was injected subcutaneously 24 h before and 1 h after QA infusion. At 7 days after QA injection, lithium significantly diminished the loss of neurons immunostained for Neuronal Nuclei (NeuN) in the injured striatum, but failed to prevent the reduction of NADPH-diaphorase-positive striatal interneurons. Lithium also reduced the number of neurons showing DNA damage or activated caspase-3. This neuroprotection was associated with an upregulation of Bcl-2 protein levels in the striatal tissue and an increase in the number and density of Bcl-2 immunostaining in striatal neurons. Bromodeoxyuridinie (BrdU) labeling in the lithium-treated injured striatum revealed the presence of large numbers of proliferating cells near the QA-injection site, with a reduction of BrdU-labeled cells in the subventricular zone (SVZ). All BrdU-labeled cells in the SVZ and the majority of BrdU-labeled cells near the QA-injection site were negative for either NeuN or glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), suggesting that they are undifferentiated progenitor cells. However, a small number of BrdU-positive cells found in the QA-injected and lithium-treated striatum site were positive for either NeuN or GFAP. Our results suggest that lithium is neuroprotective in the QA-injection model of Huntington's disease not only due to its ability to inhibit apoptosis but also because it can stimulate neuronal and astroglial progenitor proliferation in the QA-injected striatum or their migration from the SVZ.