Lithium has been used for more than six decades for the management of bipolar disorder (BD). In a previous transcriptomic study, we showed that patients affected by either BD or cluster headache, both disorders characterized by circadian disturbances and response to lithium in a subgroup of patients, have higher expression of the RNA binding motif (RNP1, RRM) protein 3 (RBM3) gene compared to controls. To investigate whether RBM3 could represent a biomarker of lithium response, we screened raw microarray expression data from lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) derived from 20 BD patients, responders or non-responders to lithium. RBM3 was the most significantly differentially expressed gene in the list, being overexpressed in responders compared to non-responders (fold change = 2.0; p = 1.5 × 10-16). We therefore sought to validate the microarray finding by quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and explore whether RBM3 expression was modulated by lithium treatment in vitro in LCLs as well as in human-derived neural progenitor cells (NPCs). Our findings confirmed the higher expression of RBM3 in responders compared to non-responders (fold change = 3.78; p = 0.0002). Lithium did not change RBM3 expression in LCLs in any of the groups, but it increased its expression in NPCs. While preliminary, our data suggest that higher levels of RBM3 might be required for better lithium response and that the expression of this gene could be modulated by lithium in a tissue-specific manner.
Keywords: Bipolar disorder; Circadian rhythm; Gene expression; Lithium response; Mood stabilizers; Neuroprotection.