Lithium’s Function

June 5, 2007

I recently read an article that attempts to describe how lithium works in the treatment or management of bipolar disorder. The article, titled, “How Lithium Helps Bipolar,” can be found on Psych Central News. The article details a study on bipolar brains, made possible by use of new MRI technologies and techniques, that reveals lithium seems to help patients grow more grey matter in regions of the brain associated with emotional regulation. I think this is very interesting, and reading this makes me happy that I gave lithium a second try.

One question I have, though, that the article didn’t answer: what about bipolar people for whom lithium doesn’t work? Does this mean lithium only grows more grey matter in select people; or does it mean that having more grey matter in these specific regions of the brain may not be all that’s necessary for the kind of emotional regulation associated with healthy people?



  1. When it comes down to it, I think that the neurochemical aspect of the disorder is so complex that the grey matter issue is only one small piece of the puzzle…and with genetics being the jungle that they are (and differing so significantly from one person to another), it’s really tricky to try to unravel mechanistically why lithium doesn’t work in person A versus person B. Personally, I tend to think that there are multiple, distinct pathways mediating the same illness, but that’s yet to be proven (or disproven).

  2. Your idea of multiple, distinct pathways is something I find pretty interesting: is this something you’ve already blogged about, by chance; or is this something you’d be willing to expand on a bit more in an upcoming blog post?

    The complexity of the neurochemical aspect was one of the reasons I asked the questions I did at the end of my post: as interesting as the findings are, I think they create more questions than they answer; and the people for whom lithium doesn’t work were the readiest example I could think of at the time. When it comes down to it, though, I’m just happy that people are really researching this; rather than just sticking us in a corner and popping pills down our throats to make us placid and compliant.

  3. Unfortunately it isn’t something I have blogged about already, but I’d be interested in doing a little research into it (as in, finding a good couple of review articles and summarizing them) in the near future. :-) As a scientist by trade (I am an immunologist, by the way), I have always been a big fan of the research side of things when it comes to this illness. That’s also why I make a point of selecting psychiatrists who have either an interest or a dual degree in neuropharmacology. ;-)

  4. Immunology! That’s a pretty broad field! Not that I know a whole lot about it – but what I’ve read, that it also covers other animals, suggests to me that someone working in that field is covering a lot of territory …

    I can understand your basing your choices in psychiatrists along those lines – it’s not just a language you and your doctor would be able to communicate in; it’s also a practical aptitude for a doctor to have, when your disorder is such that management depends on medication.

    I look forward to reading your summary when you get the chance :-)

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