Researchers Crack Codes for Lithium, Electroshock
While they have been widely used for decades, no one knew exactly why two mainstays of psychiatric treatment-lithium chloride for bipolar disorder and electroconvulsive (or electroshock) therapy for major depression-worked.
But new discoveries are illuminating how these treatments affect brain function, answering old questions and opening the door to new, more effective therapies that may have fewer side effects.
Research fellow Qing-Jun Meng and a team at the University of Manchester found that lithium blocks the activity of an enzyme that affects the brain’s master clock—the part in charge of our circadian rhythms. They reported their results in the journal PLoS One.
Scientists already knew that people with bipolar disorder suffer disruptions of circadian rhythms. “The most obvious [effects] are the sleep disorders, because that’s controlled by our body clock,” Meng says. “During a depressive episode they will experience insomnia, and during the very high moods they will feel a lot of energy, and they don’t feel a need to sleep.”