Lithium increases expression of p21WAF/Cip1 and survivin in human glioblastoma cells

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Lithium is the most widely prescribed mood stabilizer, but the precise molecular mechanisms underlying its therapeutic function are not yet fully elucidated. Recent preclinical and clinical evidence indicates its neuroprotective and neurotrophic effects. As a tight coupling of function and metabolism in the central nervous system between glial cells and neurons has recently been detected, lithium's effect on glial cells may participate also in the total beneficial effects of this drug. The aim of the present study was to analyze molecular mechanisms induced in human glioblastoma A1235 cells by the treatment with lithium, especially its influence on the expression of apoptosis-related genes. Lower levels of lithium (0.5 mmol/L and 2 mmol/L) did not cause any cytotoxicity or changes in the cell cycle phase distribution following 72 h incubation. However, a higher dose (20 mmol/L) was cytostatic for glioblastoma cells, and caused accumulation of cells in G2/M phase of the cell cycle. The treatment with lithium did not alter the levels of Bcl-2 or procaspase-3 and did not cleave PARP, but increased the levels of p21WAF/Cip1 and survivin. Thus, increased expression of p21WAF/Cip1 (a protein with antiapoptotic function), and survivin (a protein that supports the growth of cells by suppression of apoptosis and promotion of cell proliferation) may be the early events in the long-term cell response to lithium that are involved in the beneficial effects of this drug.

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