Some affective disorders appear to be accompanied by persistent neurocognitive impairment, an increased risk for mild cognitive impairment and morphological changes in the brain. Imaging, neuropsychological and postmortem brain studies suggest that there are abnormalities in specific brain regions in bipolar disorders.
There is accumulating literature on neuroprotective effects of lithium which mainly stems from studies with cell cultures and animal research. Chronic but not acute lithium treatment appears to have robust neuroprotective effects against a variety of insults including glutamatergic damage, ischemia, neurodegeneration and oxidative stress. The effects of lithium include prevention of cellular damage and loss as well as in some instances, reversal of damage after subsequent treatment with lithium. The mechanisms for the neuroprotective effects of lithium appear to be diverse.
At present little is known about the potential neuroprotective effects of lithium treatment in bipolar patients. A number of studies indicate that chronic lithium treatment may correct some of the previously reported neurocognitive abnormalities in these patients.
IGSLI currently conducts a multi-center cross-sectional study which aims at evaluating the potential of lithium in the prevention of neurocognitive impairment and volume changes of specific brain areas in patients with bipolar disorders.