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1.  Adverse Renal, Endocrine, Hepatic, and Metabolic Events during Maintenance Mood Stabilizer Treatment for Bipolar Disorder: A Population-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2016;13(8):e1002058.
There is limited, poorly characterized information about adverse events occurring during maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder. We aimed to determine adverse event rates during treatment with lithium, valproate, olanzapine, and quetiapine.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a propensity score adjusted cohort study using nationally representative United Kingdom electronic health records from January 1, 1995, until December 31, 2013. We included patients who had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and were prescribed lithium (n = 2148), valproate (n = 1670), olanzapine (n = 1477), or quetiapine (n = 1376) as maintenance mood stabilizer treatment. Adverse outcomes were chronic kidney disease, thyroid disease, hypercalcemia, weight gain, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and hepatotoxicity. The propensity score included important demographic, physical health, and mental health predictors of drug treatment allocation. The median duration of drug treatment was 1.48 y (interquartile range 0.64–3.43). Compared to patients prescribed lithium, those taking valproate, olanzapine, and quetiapine had reduced rates of chronic kidney disease stage 3 or more severe, following adjustment for propensity score, age, and calendar year, and accounting for clustering by primary care practice (valproate hazard ratio [HR] 0.56; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.45–0.69; p < 0.001, olanzapine HR 0.57; 95% CI 0.45–0.71; p < 0.001, quetiapine HR 0.62; 95% CI 0.47–0.80; p < 0.001). Hypothyroidism was reduced in those taking valproate (HR 0.60; 95% CI 0.40–0.89; p = 0.012) and olanzapine (HR 0.48; 95% CI 0.29–0.77; p = 0.003), compared to those taking lithium. Rates of new onset hyperthyroidism (valproate HR 0.24; 95% CI 0.09–0.61; p = 0.003, olanzapine HR 0.31; 95% CI 0.13–0.73; p = 0.007) and hypercalcemia (valproate HR 0.25; 95% CI 0.10–0.60; p = 0.002, olanzapine HR 0.32; 95% CI 0.14–0.76; p = 0.008, quetiapine HR 0.23; 95% CI 0.07–0.73; p = 0.013) were also reduced relative to lithium. However, rates of greater than 15% weight gain on valproate, olanzapine, and quetiapine were higher (valproate HR 1.62; 95% CI 1.31–2.01; p < 0.001, olanzapine HR 1.84; 95% CI 1.47–2.30; p < 0.001, quetiapine HR 1.67; 95% CI 1.24–2.20; p < 0.001) than in individuals prescribed lithium, as were rates of hypertension in the olanzapine treated group (HR 1.41, 95% CI 1.06–1.87; p = 0.017). We found no significant difference in rates of chronic kidney disease stage 4 or more severe, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, or hepatotoxicity. Despite estimates being robust following sensitivity analyses, limitations include the potential for residual confounding and ascertainment bias and an inability to examine dosage effects.
Lithium use is associated with more renal and endocrine adverse events but less weight gain than commonly used alternative mood stabilizers. Risks need to be offset with the effectiveness and anti-suicidal benefits of lithium and the potential metabolic side effects of alternative treatment options.
In a study of data from the United Kingdom's primary care database, THIN, Joseph Hayes and colleagues report on adverse events associated with use of lithium and other maintenance treatments for bipolar disorder.
Author Summary
Why Was This Study Done?
Although side effects of medications used for maintenance mood stabilizer treatment in bipolar disorder have been described, the relative risks of each drug are poorly understood.
Randomised, controlled trials are unlikely to be able to give us this information because they include too few patients, with too short follow-up periods.
We aimed to examine the rates of a number of adverse effects: renal failure, thyroid disease, hypercalcemia, hepatotoxicity, weight gain, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease in patients taking the most commonly prescribed mood stabilizers in the United Kingdom: lithium, valproate, olanzapine, and quetiapine.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
We conducted a cohort study of individuals with bipolar disorder prescribed lithium (n = 2148), valproate (n = 1670), olanzapine (n = 1477), or quetiapine (n = 1376), accounting for key predictors of treatment assignment, such as mental and physical health history.
We found that renal failure was more common in patients taking lithium (approximately 9 in 100 person years at risk) than in those taking the other drugs, but that rates of severe renal failure were similar in all groups (approximately 1 in 100 person years at risk).
The rate of thyroid disease was elevated in people taking lithium, compared to valproate and olanzapine, but not quetiapine.
The rate of hypercalcemia was increased with lithium compared to all other drugs.
The rates of greater than 7% and greater than 15% weight gain were significantly higher in individuals taking valproate, olanzapine, or quetiapine compared to lithium (for example, the rate of greater than 15% weight gain in those taking olanzapine was 6 in 100 person years at risk).
The rate of new onset hypertension was higher in those treated with olanzapine, compared to patients treated with lithium.
We found no statistically significant differences in rates of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, or hepatotoxicity.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings highlight and quantify the relative risks of commonly used maintenance mood stabilizer treatments.
The results for renal failure suggest that despite increasing rates of reduced renal function in those taking lithium compared to other drugs, severe renal failure is rare. We did not find differences in severe renal failure rates, which is in keeping with previous research. However, it is possible that this is due to the small number of people developing severe renal failure in each group.
Although we did not find differences in rates of diabetes or cardiovascular disease, this may be due to relatively short follow-up times and the rarity of these adverse events. Weight gain is a significant risk factor for these health problems and was dramatically elevated in alternatives to lithium.
Assiduous monitoring of patients prescribed lithium should ameliorate some risk associated with effects on renal physiology and endocrine systems. Calcium monitoring was rare in this representative cohort of patients with bipolar disorder in UK primary care, and this needs to be improved in clinical practice.
The potential adverse effects of each of these drugs need to be balanced with their individual therapeutic benefits, and we hope that our findings will permit informed, collaborative discussions with patients.
PMCID: PMC4970809  PMID: 27483368
2.  Spectrum of lithium induced thyroid abnormalities: a current perspective 
Thyroid Research  2013;6:3.
Lithium is an integral drug used in the management of acute mania, unipolar and bipolar depression and prophylaxis of bipolar disorders. Thyroid abnormalities associated with treatment with lithium have been widely reported in medical literature to date. These include goitre, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis. This current review explores the varied thyroid abnormalities frequently encountered among patients on lithium therapy and their management, since lithium is still a fundamental and widely drug used in psychiatry and Internal Medicine.
PubMed database and Google scholar were used to search for relevant English language articles relating to lithium therapy and thyroid abnormalities up to December 2012. The search terms used were lithium treatment, thyroid abnormalities, thyroid dysfunction, goitre, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyrotoxicosis, autoimmune thyroiditis, lithium toxicity, treatment of affective disorders and depression and side effects of antipsychotic drugs. Reference lists of the identified articles were further used to identify other studies.
Lithium affects normal thyroid functioning through multiple mechanisms. At the cellular level, it decreases thyroid hormone synthesis and release. It also decreases peripheral deiodination of tetraiodothyronine (T4) or thyroxine by decreasing the activity of type I 5’ de-iodinase enzyme. Hypothyroidism and goitre (clinically and/ultrasonographically detected) are the most prevalent thyroid abnormalities among patients on long term lithium therapy. Lithium induced hyperthyroidism is very infrequent. Lithium increases the propensity to thyroid autoimmunity in susceptible individuals due to its effect of augmenting the activity of B lymphocytes and reducing the ratio of circulating suppressor to cytotoxic T cells.
Thyroid function tests (serum thyroid stimulating hormone, free thyroid hormones-T4 and triiodothyronine [T3] concentrations and thyroid auto-antibodies) and assessment of thyroid size clinically and by thyroid ultrasonography ought to be performed among patients initiating lithium therapy at baseline and later annually. More frequent assessment of thyroid function status and size during the course of therapy is recommended among middle aged females (≥50 years), patients with a family history of thyroid disease and those positive for thyroid auto-antibodies (anti-thyroid peroxidase and TSH receptor antibodies).
PMCID: PMC3568739  PMID: 23391071
Lithium therapy; Thyroid abnormalities; Goitre; Hypothyroidism; Hyperthyroidism; Thyroid autoimmunity
3.  Lithium Therapy Improves Neurological Function and Hippocampal Dendritic Arborization in a Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 1 Mouse Model 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(5):e182.
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) is a dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disorder characterized by progressive motor and cognitive dysfunction. Caused by an expanded polyglutamine tract in ataxin 1 (ATXN1), SCA1 pathogenesis involves a multifactorial process that likely begins with misfolding of ATXN1, which has functional consequences on its interactions, leading to transcriptional dysregulation. Because lithium has been shown to exert neuroprotective effects in a variety of conditions, possibly by affecting gene expression, we tested the efficacy of lithium treatment in a knock-in mouse model of SCA1 (Sca1154Q/2Q mice) that replicates many features of the human disease.
Methods and Findings
Sca1154Q/2Q mice and their wild-type littermates were fed either regular chow or chow that contained 0.2% lithium carbonate. Dietary lithium carbonate supplementation resulted in improvement of motor coordination, learning, and memory in Sca1154Q/2Q mice. Importantly, motor improvement was seen when treatment was initiated both presymptomatically and after symptom onset. Neuropathologically, lithium treatment attenuated the reduction of dendritic branching in mutant hippocampal pyramidal neurons. We also report that lithium treatment restored the levels of isoprenylcysteine carboxyl methyltransferase (Icmt; alternatively, Pccmt), down-regulation of which is an early marker of mutant ATXN1 toxicity.
The effect of lithium on a marker altered early in the course of SCA1 pathogenesis, coupled with its positive effect on multiple behavioral measures and hippocampal neuropathology in an authentic disease model, make it an excellent candidate treatment for human SCA1 patients.
Huda Zoghbi and colleagues show that lithium treatment initiated before or after disease onset improves multiple symptoms of neurodegeneration in a mouse model of spinocerebellar ataxia.
Editors' Summary
Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1) is an inherited, incurable neurodegenerative disease in which the neurons (cells that transmit information between the brain and body) in the cerebellum (the brain region that coordinates movement) gradually die. Symptoms of the disease, which usually begins in early adult life, include poor coordination of movement (ataxia), slurred speech, and cognitive (learning and memory) problems. As more neurons die, these symptoms get worse until breathing difficulties eventually cause death. SCA1 is a “triplet repeat disease.” Information for making proteins is stored in DNA as groups of three nucleotides (codons), each specifying a different amino acid (the building blocks of proteins). In triplet repeat diseases, patients inherit a mutant gene containing abnormally long stretches of repeated codons. In SCA1, the repeated codon is CAG, which specifies glutamine. Consequently, SCA1 is a “polyglutamine disease,” a group of neurodegenerative disorders in which an abnormal protein (a different one for each disease) containing a long stretch of glutamine forms nuclear inclusions (insoluble lumps of protein) in neurons that, possibly by trapping essential proteins, cause neuronal death. In SCA1, the abnormal protein is ataxin 1, which is made in many neurons including the cerebellar neurons (Purkinje cells) that coordinate movement.
Why Was This Study Done?
Early in SCA1, the production of several messenger RNAs (the templates for protein production) decreases, possibly because transcription factors (proteins that control gene expression) interact with the mutant protein. Could the progression of SCA1 be slowed, therefore, by using an agent that affects gene expression? In this study, the researchers have investigated whether lithium can slow disease progression in an animal model of SCA1. They chose lithium for their study because this drug (best known for stabilizing mood in people with bipolar [manic] depression) affects gene expression, is neuroprotective, and has beneficial effects in animal models of Huntington disease, another polyglutamine disease.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers bred mice carrying one mutant gene for ataxin 1 containing a very long CAG repeat and one normal gene (Sca1154Q/2Q mice; genes come in pairs). These mice develop symptoms similar to those seen in people with SCA1. After weaning, the mice and their normal littermates were fed normal food or food supplemented with lithium for several weeks before assessing their ability to coordinate their movements and testing their cognitive skills. Dietary lithium (given before or after symptoms appeared) improved both coordination and learning and memory in the Sca1154Q/2Q mice but had little effect in the normal mice. Lithium did not change the overall appearance of the cerebellum in the Sca1154Q/2Q mice nor reduce the occurrence of nuclear inclusions, but it did partly reverse hippocampal neuron degeneration in these animals. The researchers discovered this effect by examining the shape of the hippocampal neurons in detail. These neurons normally have extensive dendrites—branch-like projections that make contact with other cells—but these gradually disappear in Sca1154Q/2Q mice; lithium partly reversed this loss. Finally, lithium also restored the level of Icmt/Pccmt mRNA in the cerebellum to near normal in the Sca1154Q/2Q mice—this mRNA is one of the first to be reduced by ataxin 1 toxicity.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that treatment with lithium slows neurodegeneration in a mouse model of SCA1, even when it is given only after the first symptoms of the disease have appeared. Unfortunately, lithium did not improve the life span of the Sca1154Q/2Q mice (although this could be because the mutant SCA1 protein has some deleterious effects outside the brain). Thus, lithium is unlikely to cure SCA1, but it could provide some help to people with this devastating disease, even if (as is usual), their condition is not diagnosed until the disease is quite advanced. However, because drugs that work in animal models of diseases do not necessarily work in people, patients with SCA1 (or other polyglutamine diseases, which might also benefit from lithium supplementation) should not be treated with lithium until human trials of this approach have been completed.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Ataxia Foundation provides information for patients
International Network of Ataxia Friends has information for patients and carergivers on ataxias, including SCA1
GeneTests provides information for health care providers and researchers about SCA1
Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) has detailed scientific information on SCA1
Huntington's Outreach Project for Education offers information for lay people from Stanford University on trinucleotide repeat disorders including SCA1
PMCID: PMC1880853  PMID: 17535104
4.  Do current screening recommendations allow for early detection of lithium-induced hyperparathyroidism in patients with bipolar disorder? 
Current screening recommendations for early detection of lithium-associated hyperparathyroidism propose an exclusive measurement of serum albumin-adjusted calcium (Aac) concentration as a single first step. However, longitudinal data in patients with recurrent affective disorders suggest that increases in serum intact parathyroid hormone (iPTH) levels in lithium-treated patients may not necessarily be accompanied by a parallel increase in the concentration of Aac. If true, patients with an isolated increase in iPTH concentration above the reference range might be missed following current screening recommendations. Therefore, this study set out to examine key parameters of calcium metabolism, including iPTH and 25-hydroxycholecalciferol concentrations in patients with bipolar disorder that was or was not managed with lithium.
Sixty patients with bipolar disorder according to DSM-IV were enrolled, 30 of whom had received long-term lithium treatment (lithium group), whereas the other 30 patients were on psychopharmacological treatment not including lithium (non-lithium group) at the time of the study. Owing to exclusion criteria (e.g., lithium < 6 months, laboratory results indicative of secondary hyperparathyroidism), 23 bipolar patients composed the final lithium group, whereas 28 patients remained in the non-lithium group for statistical analyses.
Patients in the lithium group showed a significantly higher concentration of iPTH compared to the non-lithium group (p < 0.05). Similarly, Aac concentrations were significantly increased in the lithium group compared to the non-lithium group (p < 0.05). However, in a multivariate linear regression model, group affiliation only predicted iPTH concentration (p < 0.05). In line with this, none of the four patients in the lithium group with an iPTH concentration above the reference range had an Aac concentration above the reference range.
This study suggests that the biochemical characteristics between primary hyperparathyroidism and lithium-induced hyperparathyroidism differ substantially with regard to regulation of calcium homeostasis. As such, current screening practice does not reliably detect iPTH concentrations above the reference range. Therefore, further research is needed to elucidate the consequences of an isolated iPTH concentration above the reference range in order to develop the most appropriate screening tools for hyperparathyroidism in lithium-treated patients with bipolar disorder.
PMCID: PMC4230432  PMID: 25505674
Bipolar disorder; Lithium; Hyperparathyroidism; Calcium
5.  Exposure to Lithium and Cesium Through Drinking Water and Thyroid Function During Pregnancy: A Prospective Cohort Study 
Thyroid  2015;25(11):1199-1208.
Background: Impaired thyroid function is a common side effect of lithium medication. Recent data indicate that lithium exposure through drinking water, although providing much lower doses than the medication, may also affect thyroid hormone levels. However, the effects in susceptible groups like pregnant women are not known.
Methods: In a population-based mother–child cohort in the Argentinean Andes (n = 194), an area with varying concentrations of lithium in the drinking water, we assessed lithium exposure repeatedly during pregnancy by measuring the concentrations in blood using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The markers of thyroid function included thyrotropin (TSH), free/total thyroxine (fT4/T4), free/total triiodothyronine (fT3/T3), thyroglobulin, and transthyretin in serum, sampled at the same time. Multiple potential confounders, including exposure to arsenic, cesium, and boron (elevated in water) as well as selenium and iodine (essential for thyroid function) were considered.
Results: The lithium concentrations in blood [median 25 μg/L (0.0036 mmol/L); range 1.9–145 μg/L (0.000027–0.021 mmol/L)] correlated significantly with those in urine and drinking water (rs = 0.84, p < 0.001, and rs = 0.40, p < 0.001, respectively). Using linear quantile regression models, we found a positive association between blood lithium (log2 transformed) and TSH concentrations, particularly in the lowest percentiles of TSH (B = 0.20 mIU/L, [95% confidence interval 0.048–0.35] at the fifth percentile). We also found inverse associations of blood lithium with transthyretin, particularly at the highest percentiles, as well as with fT3 and T3, with less obvious variation across percentiles. Unexpectedly, blood cesium concentrations (median 111 μg/L, range 2.5–711 μg/L) were also inversely associated with fT3 and T3, particularly at the highest T3 percentiles, but not with TSH or transthyretin. Arsenic and boron exposure (also through drinking water) did not show any associations with the thyroid parameters.
Conclusions: The study supports previous findings that lithium exposure through drinking water may impair thyroid function. The results regarding cesium exposure through drinking water are new. During pregnancy, impaired thyroid function may be detrimental for fetal development. The findings reinforce the need for better control of drinking water, including bottled water, as well as a health-based guideline value.
PMCID: PMC4652143  PMID: 26332132
6.  Lithium in Bipolar Disorder: Optimizing Therapy Using Prolonged-Release Formulations 
Drugs in R&D  2016;16(4):293-302.
Lithium has been a gold standard in the treatment of bipolar disorder (BD) for several decades. Despite a general reduction in the use of lithium over the past several years, it is effective in the management of both manic and depressive episodes in BD and continues to be recommended as a first-line mood stabilizer. This review provides an overview of the pharmacology of lithium and highlights its clinical profile in the management of BD, focusing on the potential advantages of prolonged-release (PR) versus immediate-release (IR) formulations of lithium. A literature search using PubMed was performed to identify articles describing IR and PR lithium in BD using specific search terms like ‘lithium’, ‘prolonged-release’, ‘sustained-release’, ‘extended-release’, ‘bipolar disorder’, ‘adherence’ and ‘compliance’. Relevant pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic data were also included. Several clinical trials suggested that lithium is effective in the treatment of acute mania and prophylaxis of BD and reduces the risk of suicide in patients with BD; it may also be used in combination with other drugs in the treatment of bipolar depression. Treatment with lithium must be monitored to avoid lithium-associated toxicity. The prolonged PR formulation of lithium has several advantages including consistent serum lithium concentrations, fewer adverse events and improved adherence to therapy. Although direct comparative studies between PR and IR formulations of lithium are primarily limited to pharmacokinetic studies, PR formulation of lithium provides potential advantages over IR formulation and can be effectively used in the management of BD with lesser adverse events.
PMCID: PMC5114200  PMID: 27770296
7.  Effect of acute lithium administration on penile erection: involvement of nitric oxide system 
Lithium has been the treatment of choice for bipolar disorder (BD) for many years. Although erectile dysfunction is a known adverse effect of this drug, the mechanism of action by which lithium affects erectile function is still unknown.
The aim was to investigate the possible involvement of nitric oxide (NO) in modulatory effect of lithium on penile erection (PE). We further evaluated the possible role of Sildenafil in treatment of lithium-induced erectile dysfunction.
Materials and Methods:
Erectile function was determined using rat model of apomorphine-induced erections. For evaluating the effect of lithium on penile erection, rats received intraperitoneal injection of graded doses of lithium chloride 30 mins before subcutaneous injection of apomorphine. To determine the possible role of NO pathway, sub-effective dose of N (G)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester (L-NAME), a nitric oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitor, was administered 15 min before administration of sub-effective dose of lithium chloride. In other separate experimental groups, sub- effective dose of the nitric oxide precursor, L-arginine, or Sildenafil was injected into the animals 15 min before administration of a potent dose of lithium. 30 min after administration of lithium chloride, animals were assessed in apomorphine test. Serum lithium levels were measured 30 min after administration of effective dose of lithium.
Lithium at 50 and 100 mg/kg significantly decreased number of PE (p<0.001), whereas at lower doses (5, 10 and 30 mg/kg) had no effect on apomorphine induced PE. The serum Li+ level of rats receiving 50 mg/kg lithium was 1±0.15 mmol/L which is in therapeutic range of lithium. The inhibitory effect of Lithium was blocked by administration of sub-effective dose of nitric oxide precursor L-arginine (100 mg/kg) (p<0.001) and sildenafil (3.5 mg/kg) (p<0.001) whereas pretreatment with a low and sub-effective dose of L-NAME (10mg/kg) potentiated sub-effective dose of lithium, (p<0.001).
These results suggest acute treatments with lithium cause erectile dysfunction in an in-vivo rat model. Furthermore it seems that the NO pathway might play role in erectile dysfunction associated with lithium treatment. Findings also suggest that Sildenafil may be effective in treatment of lithium-associated erectile dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC4869162  PMID: 27200425
Lithium; Erectile dysfunction; Nitric oxide
8.  Risk factors of thyroid abnormalities in bipolar patients receiving lithium: a case control study 
BMC Psychiatry  2003;3:4.
Lithium-induced thyroid abnormalities have been documented in many studies. They may occur despite normal plasma lithium levels. The objectives of this study were: 1) to determine possible relationship between lithium ratio, defined as erythrocyte lithium concentrations divided by plasma lithium concentrations, and thyroid abnormalities in bipolar patients receiving lithium and 2) to find other possible risk factors for developing thyroid abnormalities in the subjects.
Sixty-eight bipolar patients receiving lithium therapy were enrolled in a cross-sectional evaluation of thyroid function test and thyroid size. Patients were divided into two groups based on their thyroid function tests and thyroid sizes. Erythrocyte and plasma lithium concentrations were determined by atomic absorption spectrometry for each patient. Lithium ratio was then calculated.
No significant differences were found between age, positive family history of affective disorder, plasma lithium concentration, erythrocyte lithium concentration, and lithium ratio comparing the two groups. Thyroid abnormalities was significantly higher in women than in men (p < 0.05).
Lithium ratio does not appear to have a predictive role for thyroidal side effects of lithium therapy. Female gender was the main risk factor. We suggest more frequent thyroid evaluation of bipolar women who are treated with lithium.
PMCID: PMC161797  PMID: 12740023
Bipolar; goiter; hypothyroidism; lithium; lithium ratio; side effect
9.  Lithium toxicity and myxedema crisis in an elderly patient 
While thyroid dysfunction is a frequent complication of lithium treatment, myxedema crisis is a rare occurrence with a handful of cases described. Here, we describe a patient receiving lithium for about a decade for bipolar disorder, who presented with myxedema crisis and lithium toxicity. In this patient, myxedema crisis was likely precipitated by lithium toxicity and community acquired pneumonia. The effects of lithium on thyroid are briefly reviewed.
To describe an elderly male who was diagnosed with myxedema crisis and lithium toxicity.
Case Report:
A 70-year-old male was admitted in our hospital with history of gradual onset progressive decrease in level of consciousness and altered behavior for last 1 month. Patient also had history of respiratory tract symptoms for 1 week. Patient was a known case of diabetes and bipolar affective disorder for which he had been receiving insulin and lithium for 10 years. One year earlier, patient was admitted in our ward for glycemic control and evaluation of complications and was found to be clinically and biochemically euthyroid; he never returned for follow up until the present admission. On examination patient had incoherent speech, hypothermia, and bradycardia. Thyroid function showed thyroid-stimulating hormone >150 IU/ml, Tetraiodothyronine (T4) <1 μg/dl, anti-thyroid peroxidase titer of 60 IU/ml. The serum lithium level was 2.9 nmol/L (therapeutic level 0.2-1.2 nmol/L). He was managed with levothyroxine, starting with a loading oral dose of 500 μg through ryles tube followed by 100 μg daily, IV antibiotics and fluids; lithium was stopped after consultation with a psychiatrist. From day 5, patient started showing progressive improvement and by day 10, he had a Glasgow Coma Scale of 15/15, normal electrolyte, serum creatinine of 1.8 mg/dl and serum lithium level of 0.5 nmol/L.
Lithium-induced hypothyroidism may be life-threatening, thyroid function should be monitored before and during lithium therapy and drug should be discontinued and appropriate therapy instituted if hypothyroidism develops.
PMCID: PMC4046609  PMID: 24910829
Bipolar disorder; lithium; myxedema crisis
10.  The Pharmacogenomics of Bipolar Disorder study (PGBD): identification of genes for lithium response in a prospective sample 
BMC Psychiatry  2016;16:129.
Bipolar disorder is a serious and common psychiatric disorder characterized by manic and depressive mood switches and a relapsing and remitting course. The cornerstone of clinical management is stabilization and prophylaxis using mood-stabilizing medications to reduce both manic and depressive symptoms. Lithium remains the gold standard of treatment with the strongest data for both efficacy and suicide prevention. However, many patients do not respond to this medication, and clinically there is a great need for tools to aid the clinician in selecting the correct treatment. Large genome wide association studies (GWAS) investigating retrospectively the effect of lithium response are in the pipeline; however, few large prospective studies on genetic predictors to of lithium response have yet been conducted. The purpose of this project is to identify genes that are associated with lithium response in a large prospective cohort of bipolar patients and to better understand the mechanism of action of lithium and the variation in the genome that influences clinical response.
This study is an 11-site prospective non-randomized open trial of lithium designed to ascertain a cohort of 700 subjects with bipolar I disorder who experience protocol-defined relapse prevention as a result of treatment with lithium monotherapy. All patients will be diagnosed using the Diagnostic Interview for Genetic Studies (DIGS) and will then enter a 2-year follow-up period on lithium monotherapy if and when they exhibit a score of 1 (normal, not ill), 2 (minimally ill) or 3 (mildly ill) on the Clinical Global Impressions of Severity Scale for Bipolar Disorder (CGI-S-BP Overall Bipolar Illness) for 4 of the 5 preceding weeks. Lithium will be titrated as clinically appropriate, not to exceed serum levels of 1.2 mEq/L. The sample will be evaluated longitudinally using a wide range of clinical scales, cognitive assessments and laboratory tests. On relapse, patients will be discontinued or crossed-over to treatment with valproic acid (VPA) or treatment as usual (TAU). Relapse is defined as a DSM-IV manic, major depressive or mixed episode or if the treating physician decides a change in medication is clinically necessary. The sample will be genotyped for GWAS. The outcome for lithium response will be analyzed as a time to event, where the event is defined as clinical relapse, using a Cox Proportional Hazards model. Positive single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from past genetic retrospective studies of lithium response, the Consortium on Lithium Genetics (ConLiGen), will be tested in this prospective study sample; a meta-analysis of these samples will then be performed. Finally, neurons will be derived from pluripotent stem cells from lithium responders and non-responders and tested in vivo for response to lithium by gene expression studies. SNPs in genes identified in these cellular studies will also be tested for association to response.
Lithium is an extraordinarily important therapeutic drug in the clinical management of patients suffering from bipolar disorder. However, a significant proportion of patients, 30–40 %, fail to respond, and there is currently no method to identify the good lithium responders before initiation of treatment. Converging evidence suggests that genetic factors play a strong role in the variation of response to lithium, but only a few genes have been tested and the samples have largely been retrospective or quite small. The current study will collect an entirely unique sample of 700 patients with bipolar disorder to be stabilized on lithium monotherapy and followed for up to 2 years. This study will produce useful information to improve the understanding of the mechanism of action of lithium and will add to the development of a method to predict individual response to lithium, thereby accelerating recovery and reducing suffering and cost.
Trial registration
Identifier: NCT01272531
Registered: January 6, 2011
PMCID: PMC4857276  PMID: 27150464
Bipolar disorder; Lithium; Mood stabilizer; Pharmacogenetics; GWAS; Prospective trial; Personalized medicine; Precision medicine
11.  Lithium efficacy in bipolar depression with flexible dosing: A six-week, open-label, proof-of-concept study 
Lithium has a narrow therapeutic index with a subtle balance between effectiveness and adverse effects. Current guidelines recommend the use of lithium as a treatment for acute bipolar depression; however, the therapeutic range for the treatment has not been fully defined. Recently, the adjunctive lower lithium dose in bipolar depression has revealed potential efficacy; however, no study has investigated it predominantly in monotherapy. In this open-label, proof-of-concept study, 31 individuals with bipolar disorder during a depressive episode were randomized and 29 were followed up for six weeks with flexible lithium dosing. All subjects had a 21-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) score of ≥18 at baseline. Subjects were divided into two groups, with higher (Li ≥0.5 mEq/l) or lower (Li <0.5 mEq/l) blood lithium levels. Response and remission rates were evaluated using the HAM-D scores. Following 6 weeks of lithium treatment, the remission rate for all patients was 62.0%. The plasma lithium levels did not impact the clinical response. However, subjects with higher blood lithium levels had an increased prevalence of nausea, restlessness, headaches and cognitive complaints. The results indicate that the lithium dose for the treatment of bipolar depression in an individual should be based on the clinical efficacy and side-effects. In the context of personalized psychiatric treatments, it is necessary to evaluate the therapeutic action of lithium with individual regimens in order to develop more tolerable and effective treatment approaches.
PMCID: PMC4151672  PMID: 25187825
bipolar disorder; depression; lithium; treatment; trial
12.  Lithium Prescribing during Pregnancy: A UK Primary Care Database Study 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0121024.
Women taking lithium must decide whether to continue the medication if they conceive or plan to conceive. Little is known about the extent of prescribing of lithium during pregnancy.
To determine: 1) the prevalence of lithium prescribing during pregnancy and 2) to assess whether pregnancy is associated with discontinuation of lithium.
First, we identified women receiving any lithium prescriptions before and during pregnancy using The Health Improvement Network (THIN) primary care database. Subsequently, we used a Kaplan-Meier plot to compare time to last prescription in women prescribed lithium continuously three months before pregnancy and a comparison group of non-pregnant women. Finally, we described the characteristics of the women prescribed lithium in pregnancy.
Very few women were prescribed lithium during pregnancy; out of 458,761 pregnancies, we identified 47 (0.01%) in which lithium was prescribed after the 6th week of pregnancy (when the pregnancy was likely to be known). In our study of discontinuation, we found pregnant women were more likely to stop lithium than those who were not pregnant. Of the 52 women who were being continuously prescribed lithium three months before pregnancy, only 17 (33%) continued receiving prescriptions beyond the 6th week of pregnancy. However, most of these 17 women continued treatment throughout pregnancy.
Pregnancy was strongly associated with discontinuation of lithium. Further evidence on the risks of lithium is needed so that women can weight these against the risk of a deterioration in maternal mental health.
PMCID: PMC4368741  PMID: 25793580
13.  Tol1, a Fission Yeast Phosphomonoesterase, Is an In Vivo Target of Lithium, and Its Deletion Leads to Sulfite Auxotrophy 
Journal of Bacteriology  2000;182(13):3619-3625.
Lithium is the drug of choice for the treatment of bipolar affective disorder. The identification of an in vivo target of lithium in fission yeast as a model organism may help in the understanding of lithium therapy. For this purpose, we have isolated genes whose overexpression improved cell growth under high LiCl concentrations. Overexpression of tol1+, one of the isolated genes, increased the tolerance of wild-type yeast cells for LiCl but not for NaCl. tol1+ encodes a member of the lithium-sensitive phosphomonoesterase protein family, and it exerts dual enzymatic activities, 3′(2′),5′-bisphosphate nucleotidase and inositol polyphosphate 1-phosphatase. tol1+ gene-disrupted cells required high concentrations of sulfite in the medium for growth. Consistently, sulfite repressed the sulfate assimilation pathway in fission yeast. However, tol1+ gene-disrupted cells could not fully recover from their growth defect and abnormal morphology even when the medium was supplemented with sulfite, suggesting the possible implication of inositol polyphosphate 1-phosphatase activity for cell growth and morphology. Given the remarkable functional conservation of the lithium-sensitive dual-specificity phosphomonoesterase between fission yeast and higher-eukaryotic cells during evolution, it may represent a likely in vivo target of lithium action across many species.
PMCID: PMC94529  PMID: 10850973
14.  Genetic Influences on Response to Mood Stabilizers in Bipolar Disorder 
CNS Drugs  2013;27(3):165-173.
Mood stabilizers form a cornerstone in the long-term treatment of bipolar disorder. The first representative of their family was lithium, still considered a prototype drug for the prevention of manic and depressive recurrences in bipolar disorder. Along with carbamazepine and valproates, lithium belongs to the first generation of mood stabilizers, which appeared in psychiatric treatment in the 1960s. Atypical antipsychotics with mood-stabilizing properties and lamotrigine, which were introduced in the mid-1990s, form the second generation of such drugs. The response of patients with bipolar disorder to mood stabilizers has different levels of magnitude. About one-third of lithium-treated patients are excellent responders, showing total prevention of the episodes, and these patients are clinically characterized by an episodic clinical course, complete remission, a bipolar family history, low psychiatric co-morbidity and a hyperthymic temperament. It has been suggested that responders to carbamazepine or lamotrigine may differ clinically from responders to lithium. The main phenotype of the response to mood stabilizers is a degree of prevention against recurrences of manic and depressive episodes during long-term treatment. The most specific scale in this respect is the so-called Alda scale, where retrospective assessment of lithium response is scored on a 0–10 scale. The vast majority of data on genetic influences on the response to mood stabilizers has been gathered in relation to lithium. The studies on the mechanisms of action of lithium and on the neurobiology of bipolar disorder have led to the identification of a number of candidate genes. The genes studied for their association with lithium response have been those connected with neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine and glutamate), second messengers (phosphatidyl inositol [PI], cyclic adenosine-monophosphate [cAMP] and protein kinase C [PKC] pathways), substances involved in neuroprotection (brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF] and glycogen synthase kinase 3-β [GSK-3β]) and a number of other miscellaneous genes. There are no published pharmacogenomic studies of mood stabilizers other than lithium, except for one study of the X-box binding protein 1 (XBP1) gene in relation to the efficacy of valproate. In recent years, a number of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in bipolar disorders have been performed and some of those have also focused on lithium response. They suggest roles for the glutamatergic receptor AMPA (GRIA2) gene and the amiloride-sensitive cation channel 1 neuronal (ACCN1) gene in long-term lithium response. A promise for better elucidating the genetics of lithium response has been created by the formation of the Consortium on Lithium Genetics (ConLiGen) to establish the largest sample, to date, for the GWAS of lithium response in bipolar disorder. The sample currently comprises more than 1,200 patients, characterized by their response to lithium treatment according to the Alda scale. Preliminary results from this international study suggest a possible involvement of the sodium bicarbonate transporter (SLC4A10) gene in lithium response. It is concluded that the pharmacogenetics of response to mood stabilizers has recently become a growing field of research, especially so far as the pharmacogenetics of the response to lithium is concerned. Clearly, the ConLiGen project is a highly significant step in this research. Although the results of pharmacogenetic studies are of significant scientific value, their possible practical implications are yet to be seen.
PMCID: PMC3602611  PMID: 23378337
15.  Lithium in Drinking Water and Thyroid Function 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2011;119(6):827-830.
High concentrations of lithium in drinking water were previously discovered in the Argentinean Andes Mountains. Lithium is used worldwide for treatment of bipolar disorder and treatment-resistant depression. One known side effect is altered thyroid function.
We assessed associations between exposure to lithium from drinking water and other environmental sources and thyroid function.
Women (n = 202) were recruited in four Andean villages in northern Argentina. Lithium exposure was assessed based on concentrations in spot urine samples, measured by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Thyroid function was evaluated by plasma free thyroxine (T4) and pituitary gland thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), analyzed by routine immunometric methods.
The median urinary lithium concentration was 3,910 μg/L (5th, 95th percentiles, 270 μg/L, 10,400 μg/L). Median plasma concentrations (5th, 95th percentiles) of T4 and TSH were 17 pmol/L (13 pmol/L, 21 pmol/L) and 1.9 mIU/L, (0.68 mIU/L, 4.9 mIU/L), respectively. Urine lithium was inversely associated with T4 [β for a 1,000-μg/L increase = −0.19; 95% confidence interval (CI), −0.31 to −0.068; p = 0.002] and positively associated with TSH (β = 0.096; 95% CI, 0.033 to 0.16; p = 0.003). Both associations persisted after adjustment (for T4, β = −0.17; 95% CI, −0.32 to −0.015; p = 0.032; for TSH: β = 0.089; 95% CI, 0.024 to 0.15; p = 0.007). Urine selenium was positively associated with T4 (adjusted T4 for a 1 μg/L increase: β = 0.041; 95% CI, 0.012 to 0.071; p = 0.006).
Exposure to lithium via drinking water and other environmental sources may affect thyroid function, consistent with known side effects of medical treatment with lithium. This stresses the need to screen for lithium in all drinking water sources.
PMCID: PMC3114818  PMID: 21252007
bipolar disorder; iodine; lithium; selenium; thyroid-stimulating hormone; thyroxine
16.  Adaptation and validation of the Portuguese version of the Lithium Knowledge Test (LKT) of bipolar patients treated with lithium: cross-over study 
Adherence problems are a common feature among bipolar patients. A recent study showed that lithium knowledge was the main difference between adherent and non adherents bipolar patients. The Lithium Knowledge Test (LKT), a brief questionnaire, was developed as a means of identifying aspects of patients' practical and pharmacological knowledge which are important if therapy is to be safe and effective. The original English version is validated in psychiatric population, but a validated Portuguese one is not yet available.
One hundred six patients selected were diagnosed with bipolar disorder (I or II) according to DSM-IV criteria and had to be on lithium treatment for at least one month. The LKT was administered on only one occasion. We analysed the internal consis tency, concurrent validity, sensitivity and specificity of the LKT for the detection of the knowledge about lithium treatment of bipolar patients.
The internal consistency, evaluated by Cronbach's alpha was 0.596. The mean of total score LKT by bipolar patients was 9.0 (SD: 0.75) for men and 8.74 (SD: 0.44) for women. Concurrent validity based on plasma lithium concentration showed a significant correlation between the total LKT score and plasma lithium (r = 0,232; p = 0.020). The sensitivity was 84% and specificity was 81%.
LKT is a rapid, reliable instrument which appears to be as effective as a lengthier standard interview with a lithium clinic doctor, and which has a high level of acceptability to lithium patients. We found that the psychometric assessment of the Portuguese version of LKT showed good internal consistency, sensitivity and specificity.
PMCID: PMC1716160  PMID: 17147815
17.  Lithium treatment and thyroid abnormalities 
Although the interactions between lithium treatment and thyroid function have long been recognised, their clinical relevance is still controversial. This paper sets out a review of the literature to date, considering that lithium still represents the gold standard among prophylactic treatments of manic-depression several decades after its introduction.
PubMed database was used to search for English-language articles relating to lithium treatment and thyroid function. As the amount of relevant papers totalled several hundreds, this review refers to previous reviews, especially with regard to older literature. Moreover, the authors particularly refer to a series of studies of thyroid function performed in a cohort of patients at different stages of lithium treatment, who were followed up by their group from 1989 onwards.
The main findings from this review included: a) lithium definitely affects thyroid function as repeatedly shown by studies on cell cultures, experimental animals, volunteers, and patients; b) inhibition of thyroid hormone release is the critical mechanism in the development of hypothyroidism, goitre, and, perhaps, changes in the texture of the gland which are detected by ultrasonic scanning; c) compensatory mechanisms operate and prevent the development of hypothyroidism in the majority of patients; d) when additional risk factors are present, either environmental (such as iodine deficiency) or intrinsic (immunogenetic background), compensatory potential may be reduced and clinically relevant consequences may derive; e) hypothyroidism may develop in particular during the first years of lithium treatment, in middle-aged women, and in the presence of thyroid autoimmunity; f) thyroid autoimmunity is found in excess among patients suffering from affective disorders, irrespective of lithium exposure; g) in patients who have been on lithium for several years, the outcome of hypothyroidism, goitre, and thyroid autoimmunity do not much differ from those observed in the general population; h) hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer are observed rarely during lithium treatment.
Thyroid function tests (TSH, free thyroid hormones, specific antibodies, and ultrasonic scanning) should be performed prior to starting lithium prophylaxis. A similar panel should be repeated at one year. Thereafter, annual measurements of TSH may be sufficient to prevent overt hypothyroidism. In the presence of raised TSH or thyroid autoimmunity, shorter intervals between assessments are advisable (4–6 months). Measurement of antibodies and ultrasonic scanning may be repeated at 2-to-3-year intervals. The patient must be referred to the endocrinologist if TSH concentrations are repeatedly abnormal, and/or goitre or nodules are detected. Thyroid function abnormalities should not constitute an outright contraindication to lithium treatment, and lithium should not be stopped if a patient develops thyroid abnormalities. Decisions should be made taking into account the evidence that lithium treatment is perhaps the only efficient means of reducing the excessive mortality which is otherwise associated with affective disorders.
PMCID: PMC1584230  PMID: 16968542
18.  The Collaborative Lithium Trials (CoLT): specific aims, methods, and implementation 
Lithium is a benchmark treatment for bipolar illness in adults. However, there has been relatively little methodologically stringent research regarding the use of lithium in youth suffering from bipolarity.
Under the auspices of the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act (BPCA), a Written Request (WR) pertaining to the study of lithium in pediatric mania was issued by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in 2004. Accordingly, the NICHD issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting submissions to pursue this research. Subsequently, the NICHD awarded a contract to a group of investigators in order to conduct these studies.
The Collaborative Lithium Trials (CoLT) investigators, the BPCA-Coordinating Center, and the NICHD developed protocols to provide data that will: (1) establish evidence-based dosing strategies for lithium; (2) characterize the pharmacokinetics and biodisposition of lithium; (3) examine the acute efficacy of lithium in pediatric bipolarity; (4) investigate the long-term effectiveness of lithium treatment; and (5) characterize the short- and long-term safety of lithium. By undertaking two multi-phase trials rather than multiple single-phase studies (as was described in the WR), the feasibility of the research to be undertaken was enhanced while ensuring all the data outlined in the WR would be obtained. The first study consists of: (1) an 8-week open-label, randomized, escalating dose Pharmacokinetic Phase; (2) a 16-week Long-Term Effectiveness Phase; (3) a 28-week double-blind Discontinuation Phase; and (4) an 8-week open-label Restabilization Phase. The second study consists of: (1) an 8-week, double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled Efficacy Phase; (2) an open-label Long-Term Effectiveness lasting either 16 or 24 weeks (depending upon blinded treatment assignment during the Efficacy Phase); (3) a 28-week double-blind Discontinuation Phase; and (4) an 8-week open-label Restabilization Phase. In December of 2006, enrollment into the first of these studies began across seven sites.
These innovative studies will not only provide data to inform the labeling of lithium in children and adolescents with bipolar disorder, but will also enhance clinical decision-making regarding the use of lithium treatment in pediatric bipolar illness.
Trial Registration
PMCID: PMC2531078  PMID: 18700004
19.  Association between Prenatal Exposure to Antiretroviral Therapy and Birth Defects: An Analysis of the French Perinatal Cohort Study (ANRS CO1/CO11) 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(4):e1001635.
Jeanne Sibiude and colleagues use the French Perinatal Cohort to estimate the prevalence of birth defects in children born to HIV-infected women receiving antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has major benefits during pregnancy, both for maternal health and to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Safety issues, including teratogenic risk, need to be evaluated. We estimated the prevalence of birth defects in children born to HIV-infected women receiving ART during pregnancy, and assessed the independent association of birth defects with each antiretroviral (ARV) drug used.
Methods and Findings
The French Perinatal Cohort prospectively enrolls HIV-infected women delivering in 90 centers throughout France. Children are followed by pediatricians until 2 y of age according to national guidelines.
We included 13,124 live births between 1994 and 2010, among which, 42% (n = 5,388) were exposed to ART in the first trimester of pregnancy. Birth defects were studied using both European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies (EUROCAT) and Metropolitan Atlanta Congenital Defects Program (MACDP) classifications; associations with ART were evaluated using univariate and multivariate logistic regressions. Correction for multiple comparisons was not performed because the analyses were based on hypotheses emanating from previous findings in the literature and the robustness of the findings of the current study. The prevalence of birth defects was 4.4% (95% CI 4.0%–4.7%), according to the EUROCAT classification. In multivariate analysis adjusting for other ARV drugs, maternal age, geographical origin, intravenous drug use, and type of maternity center, a significant association was found between exposure to zidovudine in the first trimester and congenital heart defects: 2.3% (74/3,267), adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 2.2 (95% CI 1.3–3.7), p = 0.003, absolute risk difference attributed to zidovudine +1.2% (95% CI +0.5; +1.9%). Didanosine and indinavir were associated with head and neck defects, respectively: 0.5%, AOR = 3.4 (95% CI 1.1–10.4), p = 0.04; 0.9%, AOR = 3.8 (95% CI 1.1–13.8), p = 0.04. We found a significant association between efavirenz and neurological defects (n = 4) using the MACDP classification: AOR = 3.0 (95% CI 1.1–8.5), p = 0.04, absolute risk +0.7% (95% CI +0.07%; +1.3%). But the association was not significant using the less inclusive EUROCAT classification: AOR = 2.1 (95% CI 0.7–5.9), p = 0.16. No association was found between birth defects and lopinavir or ritonavir with a power >85% for an odds ratio of 1.5, nor for nevirapine, tenofovir, stavudine, or abacavir with a power >70%. Limitations of the present study were the absence of data on termination of pregnancy, stillbirths, tobacco and alcohol intake, and concomitant medication.
We found a specific association between in utero exposure to zidovudine and heart defects; the mechanisms need to be elucidated. The association between efavirenz and neurological defects must be interpreted with caution. For the other drugs not associated with birth defects, the results were reassuring. Finally, whatever the impact that some ARV drugs may have on birth defects, it is surpassed by the major role of ART in the successful prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
AIDS and HIV infection are commonly treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART), a combination of individual drugs that work together to prevent the replication of the virus and further spread of the infection. Starting in the 1990s, studies have shown that ART of HIV-infected women can substantially reduce transmission of the virus to the child during pregnancy and birth. Based on these results, ART was subsequently recommended for pregnant women. Since 2004, ART has been standard therapy for pregnant women with HIV/AIDS in high-income countries, and it is now recommended for all HIV-infected women worldwide. Several different antiviral drug combinations have been shown to be effective and are used to prevent mother-to-infant transmission. However, as with any other drugs taken during pregnancy, there is concern that ART can harm the developing fetus.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several previous studies have assessed the risk that ART taken by a pregnant woman might pose to her developing fetus, but the results have been inconsistent. Animal studies suggested an elevated risk for some drugs but not others. While some clinical studies have reported increases in birth defects in children born to mothers on ART, others have shown no such increase.
The discrepancy may be due to differences between the populations included in the studies and the different methods used to diagnose birth defects. Additional large studies are therefore necessary to obtain more and better evidence on the potential harm of individual anti-HIV drugs to children exposed during pregnancy. So in this study, the authors conducted a large cohort study in France to assess the relationship between different antiretroviral drugs and specific birth defects.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a large national health database known as the French Perinatal Cohort that contains information on HIV-infected mothers who delivered infants in 90 centers throughout France. Pediatricians follow all children, whatever their HIV status, to two years of age, and health statistics are collected according to national health-care guidelines. Analyzing the records, the researchers estimated the rate at which birth defects occurred in children exposed to antiretroviral drugs during pregnancy.
The researchers included 13,124 children who were born alive between 1994 and 2010 and had been exposed to ART during pregnancy. Children exposed in the first trimester of pregnancy, and those exposed during the second or third trimester, were compared to a control group (children not exposed to the drug during the whole pregnancy). Using two birth defect classification systems (EUROCAT and MACDP—MACDP collects more details on disease classification than EUROCAT), the researchers sought to detect a link between the occurrence of birth defects and exposure to individual antiretroviral drugs.
They found a small increase in the risk for heart defects in children with exposure to zidovudine. They also found an association between efavirenz exposure and a small increase in neurological defects, but only when using the MACDP classification system. The authors found no association between other antiretroviral drugs, including nevirapine (acting similar to efavirenz); tenofovir, stavudine, and abacavir (all three acting similar to zidovudine); and lopinavir and ritonavir (proteinase inhibitors) and any type of birth defect.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, overall, the risks of birth defects in children exposed to antiretroviral drugs in utero are small when considering the clear benefit of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. However, where there are safe and effective alternatives, it might be appropriate to avoid use by pregnant women of those drugs that are associated with elevated risks of birth defects.
Worldwide, a large number of children are exposed to zidovudine in utero, and these results suggest (though cannot prove) that these children may be at a slightly higher risk of heart defects. Current World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission no longer recommend zidovudine for first-line therapy.
The implications of the higher rate of neurological birth defects observed in infants exposed to efavirenz in the first trimester are less clear. The EUROCAT classification excludes minor neurological abnormalities without serious medical consequences, and so the WHO guidelines that stress the importance of careful clinical follow-up of children with exposure to efavirenz seem adequate, based on the findings of this study. The study is limited by the lack of data on the use of additional medication and alcohol and tobacco use, which could have a direct impact on fetal development, and by the absence of data on birth defects and antiretroviral drug exposure from low-income countries. However, the findings of this study overall are reassuring and suggest that apart from zidovudine and possibly efavirenz, other antiretroviral drugs are not associated with birth defects, and their use during pregnancy does not pose a risk to the infant.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Mofenson and Watts
The World Health Organization has a webpage on mother-to-child transmission of HIV
The US National Institutes of Health provides links to additional information on mother-to-child transmission of HIV
The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation also has a webpage on mother-to-child transmission
The French Perinatal Cohort has a webpage describing the cohort and its main publications (in French, with a summary in English)
PMCID: PMC4004551  PMID: 24781315
20.  Post-Acute Effectiveness of Lithium in Pediatric Bipolar I Disorder 
This study examined the long-term effectiveness of lithium for the treatment of pediatric bipolar disorder within the context of combination mood stabilizer therapy for refractory mania and pharmacological treatment of comorbid psychiatric conditions.
Outpatients, ages 7–17 years, meeting American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (DSM-IV) diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder I (BP-I) (manic or mixed) who demonstrated at least a partial response to 8 weeks of open-label treatment with lithium (Phase I) were eligible to receive open-label lithium for an additional 16 weeks (Phase II). Up to two adjunctive medications could be prescribed to patients experiencing residual symptoms of mania or comorbid psychiatric conditions, following a standardized algorithm.
Forty-one patients received continued open-label long-term treatment with lithium for a mean of 14.9 (3.0) weeks during Phase II. The mean weight-adjusted total daily dose at end of Phase II was 27.8 (6.7) mg/kg/day, with an average lithium concentration of 1.0 (0.3) mEq/L. Twenty-five of the 41 patients (60.9%) were prescribed adjunctive psychotropic medications for residual symptoms. The most frequent indications for adjunctive medications were refractory mania (n=13; 31.7%) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (n=15; 36.6%). At the end of this phase 28 (68.3%) patients met a priori criteria for response (≥50% reduction from Phase I baseline in Young Mania Rating Scale [YMRS] summary score and a Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement [CGI-I] score of 1 or 2), with 22 (53.7%) considered to be in remission (YMRS summary score≤12 and CGI-Severity score of 1 or 2). These data suggest that patients who initially responded to lithium maintained mood stabilization during continuation treatment, but partial responders did not experience further improvement during Phase II, despite the opportunity to receive adjunctive medications. The most commonly reported (≥20%) adverse events associated with lithium treatment were vomiting, headache, abdominal pain, and tremor.
Lithium may be a safe and effective longer-term treatment for patients with pediatric bipolar disorder who respond to acute treatment with lithium. Partial responders to acute lithium did not appear to experience substantial symptom improvement during the continuation phase, despite the possibility that adjunctive medications could be prescribed.
PMCID: PMC3609605  PMID: 23510444
21.  A Randomised Controlled Trial of Artemether-Lumefantrine Versus Artesunate for Uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum Treatment in Pregnancy 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(12):e253.
To date no comparative trials have been done, to our knowledge, of fixed-dose artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) for the treatment of Plasmodium falciparum malaria in pregnancy. Evidence on the safety and efficacy of ACTs in pregnancy is needed as these drugs are being used increasingly throughout the malaria-affected world. The objective of this study was to compare the efficacy, tolerability, and safety of artemether-lumefantrine, the most widely used fixed ACT, with 7 d artesunate monotherapy in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Methods and Findings
An open-label randomised controlled trial comparing directly observed treatment with artemether-lumefantrine 3 d (AL) or artesunate monotherapy 7 d (AS7) was conducted in Karen women in the border area of northwestern Thailand who had uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The primary endpoint was efficacy defined as the P. falciparum PCR-adjusted cure rates assessed at delivery or by day 42 if this occurred later than delivery, as estimated by Kaplan-Meier survival analysis. Infants were assessed at birth and followed until 1 y of life. Blood sampling was performed to characterise the pharmacokinetics of lumefantrine in pregnancy. Both regimens were very well tolerated. The cure rates (95% confidence interval) for the intention to treat (ITT) population were: AS7 89.2% (82.3%–96.1%) and AL 82.0% (74.8%–89.3%), p = 0.054 (ITT); and AS7 89.7% (82.6%–96.8%) and AL 81.2% (73.6%–88.8%), p = 0.031 (per-protocol population). One-third of the PCR-confirmed recrudescent cases occurred after 42 d of follow-up. Birth outcomes and infant (up to age 1 y) outcomes did not differ significantly between the two groups. The pharmacokinetic study indicated that low concentrations of artemether and lumefantrine were the main contributors to the poor efficacy of AL.
The current standard six-dose artemether-lumefantrine regimen was well tolerated and safe in pregnant Karen women with uncomplicated falciparum malaria, but efficacy was inferior to 7 d artesunate monotherapy and was unsatisfactory for general deployment in this geographic area. Reduced efficacy probably results from low drug concentrations in later pregnancy. A longer or more frequent AL dose regimen may be needed to treat pregnant women effectively and should now be evaluated. Parasitological endpoints in clinical trials of any antimalarial drug treatment in pregnancy should be extended to delivery or day 42 if it comes later.
Trial Registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN86353884
Rose McGready and colleagues show that an artemether-lumefantrine regimen is well tolerated and safe in pregnant Karen women with uncomplicated falciparum malaria, but efficacy is inferior to artesunate, probably because of low drug concentrations in later pregnancy.
Editors' Summary
Plasmodium falciparum, a mosquito-borne parasite that causes malaria, kills nearly one million people every year. Although most deaths occur among young children, malaria during pregnancy is also an important public-health problem. In areas where malaria transmission is high (stable transmission), women acquire a degree of immunity. Although less symptomatic than women who lack natural protection, their babies are often small and sickly because malaria-related anemia (lack of red blood cells) and parasites in the placenta limit the nutrients supplied to the baby before birth. By contrast, in areas where malaria transmission is low (unstable transmission or sporadic outbreaks), women have little immunity to P. falciparum. If these women become infected during pregnancy, “uncomplicated” malaria (fever, chills, and anemia) can rapidly progress to “severe” malaria (in which vital organs are damaged), which can be fatal to the mother and/or her unborn child unless prompt and effective treatment is given.
Why Was This Study Done?
Malaria parasites are now resistant to many of the older antimalarial drugs (for example, quinine). So, since 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that uncomplicated malaria during the second and third trimester of pregnancy is treated with short course (3 d) fixed-dose artemisinin combination therapy (ACT; quinine is still used in early pregnancy because it is not known whether ACT damages fetal development, which mainly occurs during the first 3 mo of pregnancy). Artemisinin derivatives are fast-acting antimalarial agents that are used in combination with another antimalarial drug to reduce the chances of P. falciparum becoming resistant to either drug. The most widely used fixed-dose ACT is artemether–lumefantrine (AL) but, although several trials have examined the safety and efficacy of this treatment in non-pregnant women, little is known about how well it works in pregnant women. In this study, the researchers compare the efficacy, tolerability, and safety of AL with a 7-d course of artesunate monotherapy (AS7; another artemisinin derivative) in the treatment of uncomplicated malaria in pregnancy in northwest Thailand, an area with unstable but highly drug resistant malaria transmission.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 253 women with uncomplicated malaria during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy into their open-label trial (a trial in which the patients and their health-care workers know who is receiving which drug regimen). Half the women received each type of treatment. The trial's main outcome was the “PCR-adjusted cure rate” at delivery or 42 d after treatment if this occurred after delivery. This cure rate was assessed by examining blood smears for parasites and then using a technique called PCR to determine which cases of malaria were new infections (classified as treatment successes along with negative blood smears) and which were recurrences of an old infection (classified as treatment failures). The PCR-adjusted cure rates were 89.7% and 81.2% for AS7 and AL, respectively. Both treatments were well tolerated, few side effects were seen with either treatment, and infant health and development at birth and up to 1 y old were similar with both regimens. Finally, an analysis of blood samples taken 7 d after treatment with AL showed that blood levels of lumefantrine were below those previously associated with treatment failure in about a third of the women tested.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although these findings indicate that the AL regimen is a well tolerated and safe treatment for uncomplicated malaria in pregnant women living in northwest Thailand, the efficacy of this treatment was lower than that of artesunate monotherapy. In fact, neither treatment reached the 90% cure rate recommended by WHO for ACTs and it is likely that cure rates in a more realistic situation (that is, not in a trial where efforts are made to make sure everyone completes their treatment) would be even lower. The findings also suggest that the reduced efficacy of the AL regimen in pregnant women compared to the efficacy previously seen in non-pregnant women may be caused by lower drug blood levels during pregnancy. Thus, a higher-dose AL regimen (or an alternative ACT) may be needed to successfully treat uncomplicated malaria during pregnancy.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia contains a page on malaria (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages), and their 2006 Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria includes specific recommendations for the treatment of pregnant women
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria and on malaria during pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on malaria during pregnancy, on artemisinin-based combination therapies, and on malaria in Thailand
PMCID: PMC2605900  PMID: 19265453
22.  A putative amino acid transporter of the SLC6 family is up-regulated by lithium and is required for resistance to lithium toxicity in Drosophila 
Neuroscience  2009;163(3):825-837.
Lithium is an efficacious drug for the treatment of mood disorders, and its application is also considered a potential therapy for brain damage. However, the mechanisms underlying lithium’s therapeutic action and toxic effects in the nervous system remain largely elusive. Here we report on the use of a versatile genetic model, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, to discover novel molecular components involved in the lithium-responsive neurobiological process. We previously identified CG15088, which encodes a putative nutrient amino acid transporter of the solute carrier 6 (SLC6) family, as one of the genes most significantly up-regulated in response to lithium treatment. This gene was the only SLC6 gene induced by lithium, and was thus designated as Lithium-inducible SLC6 transporter or List. Either RNAi-mediated knockdown or complete deletion of List resulted in a remarkable increase in the susceptibility of adult flies to lithium’s toxic effects, whereas transgenic expression of wild-type List significantly suppressed the lithium hypersensitive phenotype of List-deficient flies. Other ions such as sodium, potassium and chloride did not induce List up-regulation, nor did they affect the viability of flies with suppressed List expression. These results indicate that lithium’s biochemical or physical properties, rather than general osmotic responses, are responsible for the lithium-induced up-regulation of List, as well as for the lithium-susceptible phenotype observed in List knockdown flies. Interestingly, flies became significantly more susceptible to lithium toxicity when List RNAi was specifically expressed in glia than when it was expressed in neurons or muscles, which is consistent with potential glial expression of List. These results show that the List transporter confers resistance to lithium toxicity, possibly as a consequence of its amino acid transporter activity in CNS glia. Our results have provided a new avenue of investigation toward a better understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie lithium-responsive neurobiological process.
PMCID: PMC2746873  PMID: 19619614
sodium neurotransmitter symporter family; GAL4/UAS system; RNA interference; glia
23.  Inhibition of Heart Formation by Lithium is an Indirect Result of the Disruption of Tissue Organization within the Embryo 
Lithium is a commonly used drug for the treatment of bipolar disorder. At high doses, lithium becomes teratogenic, which is a property that has allowed this agent to serve as a useful tool for dissecting molecular pathways that regulate embryogenesis. This study was designed to examine the impact of lithium on heart formation in the developing frog for insights into the molecular regulation of cardiac specification. Embryos were exposed to lithium at the beginning of gastrulation, which produced severe malformations of the anterior end of the embryo. Although previous reports characterized this deformity as a posteriorized phenotype, histological analysis revealed that the defects were more comprehensive, with disfigurement and disorganization of all interior tissues along the anterior-posterior axis. Emerging tissues were poorly segregated and cavity formation was decreased within the embryo. Lithium exposure also completely ablated formation of the heart and prevented myocardial cell differentiation. Despite the complete absence of cardiac tissue in lithium treated embryos, exposure to lithium did not prevent myocardial differentiation of precardiac DMZ explants. Moreover, precardiac tissue freed from the embryo subsequent to lithium treatment at gastrulation gave rise to cardiac tissue, as demonstrated by upregulation of cardiac gene expression, display of sarcomeric proteins, and formation of a contractile phenotype. Together these data indicate that lithium’s effect on the developing heart was not due to direct regulation of cardiac differentiation, but an indirect consequence of disrupted tissue organization within the embryo.
PMCID: PMC3288208  PMID: 22150286
lithium; Wnt; heart development; myocardium; precardiac mesoderm; Xenopus
24.  Effect of lithium maintenance therapy on thyroid and parathyroid function. 
OBJECTIVES: To assess changes induced by lithium maintenance therapy on the incidence of thyroid, parathyroid and ion alterations. These were evaluated with respect to the duration of lithium therapy, age, sex, and family history (whether or not the patient had a first-degree relative with thyroid disease). DESIGN: Prospective study. SETTING: Affective Disorders Clinic at St. Mary's Hospital, Montreal. PATIENTS: One hundred and one patients (28 men and 73 women) with bipolar disorder receiving lithium maintenance therapy ranging from 1 year's to 32 years' duration. The control group consisted of 82 patients with no psychiatric or endocrinological diagnoses from the hospital's out-patient clinics. OUTCOME MEASURES: Laboratory analyses of calcium, magnesium and thyroid-stimulating hormone levels performed before beginning lithium therapy and at biannual follow-up. RESULTS: Hypothyroidism developed in 40 patients, excluding 8 patients who were hypothyroid at baseline. All patients having first-degree relatives affected by thyroid illness had accelerated onset of hypothyroidism (3.7 years after onset of lithium therapy) compared with patients without a family history (8.6 years after onset of lithium therapy). Women over 60 years of age were more often affected by hypothyroidism than women under 60 years of age (34.6% versus 31.9%). Magnesium levels in patients on lithium treatment were unchanged from baseline levels. After lithium treatment, calcium levels were higher than either baseline levels or control levels. Thus, lithium treatment counteracted the decrease in plasma calcium levels associated with aging. CONCLUSIONS: Familial thyroid illness is a risk factor for hypothyroidism and hypercalcemia during lithium therapy.
PMCID: PMC1189013  PMID: 10354657
25.  Moderate to severe HIV-associated neurocognitive impairment 
Medicine  2016;95(46):e5401.
Supplemental Digital Content is available in the text
HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) remains highly prevalent despite effective anti-retroviral therapy (ART). A number of adjunctive pharmacotherapies for HAND have been studied with disappointing results, but preliminary data suggest that lithium may provide clinical benefit. In addition, the low cost of lithium would facilitate access in low- and middle-income countries which carry the greatest burden of HIV.
Our objective was to evaluate the 24-week efficacy and safety of lithium in patients with moderate to severe HAND. Our primary efficacy endpoint was the change in Global Deficit Score (GDS) from baseline to 24 weeks, whereas our secondary endpoint was the change in proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) brain metabolite concentrations. We conducted a 24-week randomized placebo-controlled trial of lithium as adjunctive pharmacotherapy. We enrolled participants with moderate to severe HAND, on ART for at least 6 months, with suppressed viral loads and attending public sector primary care clinics in Cape Town, South Africa. We randomized 66 participants to lithium (n = 32) or placebo (n = 34). Lithium or placebo was dosed 12-hourly and titrated to achieve the maintenance target plasma concentration of 0.6 to 1.0 mmol/L. Sham lithium concentrations were generated for participants receiving placebo.
Totally 61 participants completed the study (lithium arm = 30; placebo arm = 31). Participants at enrolment had a mean age of 40 years and a median CD4+ T-cell count of 500 cells/μL. The median change in GDS between baseline and week 24 for the lithium and placebo arms were –0.57 (95% confidence interval [CI] –0.77, –0.32) and –0.56 (–0.69, –0.34) respectively, with a mean difference of –0.054 (95% CI –0.26, 0.15); P = 0.716. The improvement remained similar when analyzed according to age, severity of impairment, CD4+ count, time on ART, and ART regimen. Standard 1H-MRS metabolite concentrations were similar between the treatment arms. The study drug was well tolerated in both study arms. Six serious adverse events occurred, but none were considered related to the study drug.
Adjunctive lithium pharmacotherapy in patients on ART with HAND was well tolerated but had no additional benefit on neurocognitive impairment.
PMCID: PMC5120936  PMID: 27861379
antiretroviral therapy; HIV; HIV neurocognitive impairment; lithium; Placebo; randomized controlled clinical trial; South Africa

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