Lithium treatment reverses irradiation-induced changes in rodent neural progenitors and rescues cognition

Mol Psychiatry. 2021 Jan;26(1):322-340. doi: 10.1038/s41380-019-0584-0. Epub 2019 Nov 14.


Cranial radiotherapy in children has detrimental effects on cognition, mood, and social competence in young cancer survivors. Treatments harnessing hippocampal neurogenesis are currently of great relevance in this context. Lithium, a well-known mood stabilizer, has both neuroprotective, pro-neurogenic as well as antitumor effects, and in the current study we introduced lithium treatment 4 weeks after irradiation. Female mice received a single 4 Gy whole-brain radiation dose on postnatal day (PND) 21 and were randomized to 0.24% Li2CO3 chow or normal chow from PND 49 to 77. Hippocampal neurogenesis was assessed on PND 77, 91, and 105. We found that lithium treatment had a pro-proliferative effect on neural progenitors, but neuronal integration occurred only after it was discontinued. Also, the treatment ameliorated deficits in spatial learning and memory retention observed in irradiated mice. Gene expression profiling and DNA methylation analysis identified two novel factors related to the observed effects, Tppp, associated with microtubule stabilization, and GAD2/65, associated with neuronal signaling. Our results show that lithium treatment reverses irradiation-induced loss of hippocampal neurogenesis and cognitive impairment even when introduced long after the injury. We propose that lithium treatment should be intermittent in order to first make neural progenitors proliferate and then, upon discontinuation, allow them to differentiate. Our findings suggest that pharmacological treatment of cognitive so-called late effects in childhood cancer survivors is possible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / drug therapy
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Lithium Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neural Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Neural Stem Cells / radiation effects*
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects


  • Lithium Compounds