Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences

Document Type: Original Article(s)

Authors

1 Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran

2 Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Pathophysiology, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and Department of Psychiatry, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

3 Department of Immunology, School of Medicine, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, Shiraz, Iran

Abstract

Background: B cell CLL/lymphoma 2 protein, bcl-2, is an important anti-apoptotic factor that has been implicated in lithium’s neuroprotective effect. However, most studies have focused on assessing the effects of lithium in neurons, ignoring examination of bcl-2 in astrocytes, which also influence neuronal survival and are affected in bipolar disorder. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether chronic lithium treatment also elevates bcl-2 expression in astrocytes compared with neuronal and mixed neuron-astrocyte cultures. Methods: Rat primary astrocyte, neuronal, and mixed neuron-astrocyte cultures were prepared from the cerebral cortices of 18-day embryos. The cell cultures were treated with lithium (1 mM) or vehicle for 24 h or 7 days. Thereafter, bcl-2 mRNA and protein levels were determined by RT-PCR and ELISA, respectively. Results: Chronic, but not acute, lithium treatment significantly increased bcl-2 protein levels in the astrocyte cultures compared with the vehicle-treated cultures. While lithium treatment increased bcl-2 protein levels in both neuronal and mixed neuron-astrocyte cultures, the elevations fell short of statistical significance compared with the respective vehicle-treated cultures. However, neither acute nor chronic lithium treatment affected bcl-2 mRNA levels in any of the three cell types studied. Conclusion: Increased bcl-2 levels in rat primary astrocyte cultures following chronic lithium treatment suggest astrocytes are also a target of lithium’s action. In light of the evidence showing decreased numbers of glial cells in the post-mortem brain of patients bipolar disorder with and increased glial numbers following lithium treatment, the findings of this study indicate that lithium’s action on astrocytes may account, at least in part, for its therapeutic effects in bipolar disorder.