Lithium response in bipolar disorder correlates with improved cell viability of patient derived cell lines

Sci Rep. 2020 May 4;10(1):7428. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-64202-1.


Lithium is an effective, well-established treatment for bipolar disorder (BD). However, the mechanisms of its action, and reasons for variations in clinical response, are unclear. We used neural precursor cells (NPCs) and lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs), from BD patients characterized for clinical response to lithium (using the "Alda scale" and "NIMH Retrospective Life chart method"), to interrogate cellular phenotypes related to both disease and clinical lithium response. NPCs from two biologically related BD patients who differed in their clinical response to lithium were compared with healthy controls. RNA-Seq and analysis, mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), cell viability, and cell proliferation parameters were assessed, with and without in vitro lithium. These parameters were also examined in LCLs from 25 BD patients (16 lithium responders and 9 non-responders), and 12 controls. MMP was lower in both NPCs and LCLs from BD; but it was reversed with in vitro lithium only in LCLs, and this was unrelated to clinical lithium response. The higher cell proliferation observed in BD was unaffected by in vitro lithium. Cell death was greater in BD. However, LCLs from clinical lithium responders could be rescued by addition of in vitro lithium. In vitro lithium also enhanced BCL2 and GSK3B expression in these cells. Our findings indicate cellular phenotypes related to the disease (MMP, cell proliferation) in both NPCs and LCLs; and those related to clinical lithium response (cell viability, BCL2/GSK3B expression) in LCLs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antimanic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Line / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival / drug effects*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Lithium / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • RNA-Seq
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Antimanic Agents
  • BCL2 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Lithium
  • GSK3B protein, human
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta