Lithium (Li+) is the mood stabilizer most frequently used in the treatment of bipolar mood disorder; however, its therapeutic mechanism is unknown. In the 1980s, Berridge and colleagues proposed that Li+ treatment acts via inhibition of IMPase (inositol monophosphatase) to deplete the cellular concentration of myo-inositol. Inositol depletion is also seen with the alternative mood stabilizers VPA (valproic acid) and CBZ (carbamazepine), suggesting a common therapeutic action. All three drugs cause changes in neuronal cell morphology and cell chemotaxis; however, it is unclear how reduced cellular inositol modulates these changes in cell behaviour. It is often assumed that reduced inositol suppresses Ins(1,4,5)P3, a major intracellular signal molecule, but there are other important phosphoinostide-based signal molecules in the cell. In the present paper, we discuss evidence that Li+ has a substantial effect on PtdIns(3,4,5)P3, an important signal molecule within the nervous system. As seen for Ins(1,4,5)P3 signalling, suppression of PtdIns(3,4,5)P3 signalling also occurs via an inositol-depletion mechanism. This has implications for the cellular mechanisms controlling phosphoinositide signalling, and offers insight into the genetics underlying risk of bipolar mood disorder.

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