Inhibition of GSK3 by lithium, from single molecules to signaling networks

Front Mol Neurosci. 2012 Feb 20:5:14. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2012.00014. eCollection 2012 Jan 27.


For more than 60 years, the mood stabilizer lithium has been used alone or in combination for the treatment of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and other mental illnesses. Despite this long history, the molecular mechanisms trough which lithium regulates behavior are still poorly understood. Among several targets, lithium has been shown to directly inhibit glycogen synthase kinase 3 alpha and beta (GSK3α and GSK3β). However in vivo, lithium also inhibits GSK3 by regulating other mechanisms like the formation of a signaling complex comprised of beta-arrestin 2 (βArr2) and Akt. Here, we provide an overview of in vivo evidence supporting a role for inhibition of GSK3 in some behavioral effects of lithium. We also explore how regulation of GSK3 by lithium within a signaling network involving several molecular targets and cell surface receptors [e.g., G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs)] may provide cues to its relative pharmacological selectivity and its effects on disease mechanisms. A better understanding of these intricate actions of lithium at a systems level may allow the rational development of better mood stabilizer drugs with enhanced selectivity, efficacy, and lesser side effects.

Keywords: Akt; arrestin; bipolar disorder; glycogen synthase kinase 3; lithium; mood stabilizer; pharmacology; protein-protein interactions.