Lithium alters expression of RNAs in a type-specific manner in differentiated human neuroblastoma neuronal cultures, including specific genes involved in Alzheimer's disease

Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 4;9(1):18261. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54076-3.


Lithium (Li) is a medication long-used to treat bipolar disorder. It is currently under investigation for multiple nervous system disorders, including Alzheimer's disease (AD). While perturbation of RNA levels by Li has been previously reported, its effects on the whole transcriptome has been given little attention. We, therefore, sought to determine comprehensive effects of Li treatment on RNA levels. We cultured and differentiated human neuroblastoma (SK-N-SH) cells to neuronal cells with all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA). We exposed cultures for one week to lithium chloride or distilled water, extracted total RNA, depleted ribosomal RNA and performed whole-transcriptome RT-sequencing. We analyzed results by RNA length and type. We further analyzed expression and protein interaction networks between selected Li-altered protein-coding RNAs and common AD-associated gene products. Lithium changed expression of RNAs in both non-specific (inverse to sequence length) and specific (according to RNA type) fashions. The non-coding small nucleolar RNAs (snoRNAs) were subject to the greatest length-adjusted Li influence. When RNA length effects were taken into account, microRNAs as a group were significantly less likely to have had levels altered by Li treatment. Notably, several Li-influenced protein-coding RNAs were co-expressed or produced proteins that interacted with several common AD-associated genes and proteins. Lithium's modification of RNA levels depends on both RNA length and type. Li activity on snoRNA levels may pertain to bipolar disorders while Li modification of protein coding RNAs may be relevant to AD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease / genetics*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Lithium Chloride / pharmacology*
  • Lithium Chloride / therapeutic use
  • RNA / genetics*
  • Transcriptome / drug effects*


  • RNA
  • Lithium Chloride