Lithium, a therapeutic agent for bipolar disorder, can induce G2/M arrest in various cells, but the mechanism is unclear. In this article, we demonstrated that lithium arrested hepatocellular carcinoma cell SMMC-7721 at G2/M checkpoint by inducing the phosphorylation of cdc2 (Tyr-15). This effect was p53 independent and not concerned with the inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 and inositol monophosphatase, two well-documented targets of lithium. Checkpoint kinase 1 (Chk1), a critical enzyme in DNA damage-induced G2/M arrest, was at least partially responsible for the lithium action. The lithium-induced phosphorylation of cdc2 and G2/M arrest was abrogated largely by SB218078, a potent Chk1 inhibitor, as well as by Chk1 siRNA or the over-expression of kinase dead Chk1. Furthermore, lithium-induced cdc25C phosphorylation in 7721 cells and in vitro kinase assay showed that the activity of Chk1 was enhanced after lithium treatment. Interestingly, the increase of Chk1 activity by lithium may be independent of ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM)/ATM and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase. This is because no elevated phosphorylation on Chk1 (Ser-317 and Ser-345) was observed after lithium treatment. Moreover, caffeine, a known ATM/ATR kinase inhibitor, relieved the phosphorylation of cdc2 (Tyr-15) by hydroxyurea, but not that by lithium. Our study's results revealed the role of Chk1 in lithium-induced G2/M arrest. Given that Chk1 has been proposed to be a novel tumor suppressor, we suggest that the effect of lithium on Chk1 and cell cycle is useful in tumor prevention and therapy.
2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.