Lithium increases synaptic GluA2 in hippocampal neurons by elevating the δ-catenin protein

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Lithium (Li+) is a drug widely employed for treating bipolar disorder, however the mechanism of action is not known. Here we study the effects of Li+ in cultured hippocampal neurons on a synaptic complex consisting of δ-catenin, a protein associated with cadherins whose mutation is linked to autism, and GRIP, an AMPA receptor (AMPAR) scaffolding protein, and the AMPAR subunit, GluA2. We show that Li+ elevates the level of δ-catenin in cultured neurons. δ-catenin binds to the ABP and GRIP proteins, which are synaptic scaffolds for GluA2. We show that Li+ increases the levels of GRIP and GluA2, consistent with Li+-induced elevation of δ-catenin. Using GluA2 mutants, we show that the increase in surface level of GluA2 requires GluA2 interaction with GRIP. The amplitude but not the frequency of mEPSCs was also increased by Li+ in cultured hippocampal neurons, confirming a functional effect and consistent with AMPAR stabilization at synapses. Furthermore, animals fed with Li+ show elevated synaptic levels of δ-catenin, GRIP, and GluA2 in the hippocampus, also consistent with the findings in cultured neurons. This work supports a model in which Li+ stabilizes δ-catenin, thus elevating a complex consisting of δ-catenin, GRIP and AMPARs in synapses of hippocampal neurons. Thus, the work suggests a mechanism by which Li+ can alter brain synaptic function that may be relevant to its pharmacologic action in treatment of neurological disease.

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