Lithium treatment alleviates impaired cognition in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome

Genes Brain Behav. 2013 Oct;12(7):723-31. doi: 10.1111/gbb.12071. Epub 2013 Aug 29.


Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is caused by suppressed expression of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP), which results in intellectual disability accompanied by many variably manifested characteristics, such as hyperactivity, seizures and autistic-like behaviors. Treatment of mice that lack FMRP, Fmr1 knockout (KO) mice, with lithium has been reported to ameliorate locomotor hyperactivity, prevent hypersensitivity to audiogenic seizures, improve passive avoidance behavior and attenuate sociability deficits. To focus on the defining characteristic of FXS, which is cognitive impairment, we tested if lithium treatment ameliorated impairments in four cognitive tasks in Fmr1 KO mice, tested if the response to lithium differed in adolescent and adult mice and tested if therapeutic effects persisted after discontinuation of lithium administration. Fmr1 KO mice displayed impaired cognition in the novel object detection task, temporal ordering for objects task and coordinate and categorical spatial processing tasks. Chronic lithium treatment of adolescent (from 4 to 8 weeks of age) and adult (from 8 to 12 weeks of age) mice abolished cognitive impairments in all four cognitive tasks. Cognitive deficits returned after lithium treatment was discontinued for 4 weeks. These results show that Fmr1 KO mice exhibit severe impairments in these cognitive tasks, that lithium is equally effective in normalizing cognition in these tasks whether it is administered to young or adult mice and that lithium administration must be continued for the cognitive improvements to be sustained. These findings provide further evidence that lithium administration may be beneficial for individuals with FXS.

Keywords: Cognition; fragile X syndrome; learning; lithium; novel object detection; spatial processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein / genetics
  • Fragile X Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Fragile X Syndrome / genetics
  • Fragile X Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Lithium / pharmacology*
  • Lithium / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout


  • Fmr1 protein, mouse
  • Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein
  • Lithium