If you hear lithium, what’s the first thing you think of? For years, lithium has been one of the most widely used and studied therapies for patients with bipolar disorder. But now, researchers believe lithium could be used to treat neural defects in patients with Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS). According to Medical XPress, researchers treated mice models of BBS with lithium to improve learning skills and hippocampal neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons in the brain). Check out the full findings published in PLOS Genetics.
Bardet-Biedl Syndrome (BBS)
In most cases, Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS), a rare multi-system disorder, is caused by some gene mutation. Altogether, 12 genes have been linked to BBS. However, BBS1 gene mutations are most often associated with BBS. In each case, the genetic mutations affect the cilia, or the hair-like structures that cover cells throughout the body. Normally, cilia play a role in organ function, health, and development. But when these cilia are defective or dysfunctional, health issues arise. Thus, BBS is considered to be a ciliopathy, or a cilia-related disease.
Altogether, BBS symptoms and severity vary from patient to patient. However, symptoms or characteristics may include:
- Renal abnormalities
- Retinal degeneration
- Note: Outside of retinal degeneration, BBS-associated vision issues include tunnel vision, night blindness, or total vision loss. In many cases, vision loss becomes progressively worse throughout a patient’s life.
- An extra toe or finger
- Impaired coordination
- High blood pressure
- Delayed puberty
- Speech or learning delays
- Abnormal gait
- Short, wide, or flat feet
- Abnormally short, or webbed, fingers and toes
- Depression and anxiety
- Loss of smell
- Rapid eye movements
In their study, researchers wanted to understand the link between ciliopathies and intellectual disabilities. To begin, the researchers used mice models of BBS. They contrasted the experiences of mice with BBS to “normal” mice (without ciliopathies) in terms of fear. For example, “normal” mice who underwent a fearful event associated a certain environment to that event. However, mice models of BBS were not able to use this same fear memory. As researchers explored this, they realized that the learning difficulties stemmed from poor hippocampal neurogenesis. Without being able to develop new neurons, mice were unable to strengthen their fear memory.
Next, researchers treated these mice models with lithium. According to WebMD, lithium is an element which is often used as a mood stabilizer:
Exactly how lithium works is unknown, but it might help mental disorders by increasing the activity of chemical messengers in the brain. Lithium might also be needed for other functions in the body, like the development of blood cells.
After being treated with lithium, the mice models of BBS experienced better learning skills, increased neurogenesis, and better memory.