Clinical and biological effects of long-term lithium treatment in older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment: randomised clinical trial

Orestes V Forlenza, Márcia Radanovic, Leda L Talib, Wagner F Gattaz
British Journal of Psychiatry 2019, 215 (5): 668-674

BACKGROUND: Experimental studies indicate that lithium may facilitate neurotrophic/protective responses in the brain. Epidemiological and imaging studies in bipolar disorder, in addition to a few trials in Alzheimer's disease support the clinical translation of these findings. Nonetheless, there is limited controlled data about potential use of lithium to treat or prevent dementia.

AIMS: To determine the benefits of lithium treatment in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a clinical condition associated with high risk for Alzheimer's disease.

METHOD: A total of 61 community-dwelling, physically healthy, older adults with MCI were randomised to receive lithium or placebo (1:1) for 2 years (double-blind phase), and followed-up for an additional 24 months (single-blinded phase) (trial registration at NCT01055392). Lithium carbonate was prescribed to yield subtherapeutic concentrations (0.25-0.5 mEq/L). Primary outcome variables were the cognitive (Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale - cognitive subscale) and functional (Clinical Dementia Rating - Sum of Boxes) parameters obtained at baseline and after 12 and 24 months. Secondary outcomes were neuropsychological test scores; cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of Alzheimer's disease-related biomarkers determined at 0, 12 and 36 months; conversion rate from MCI to dementia (0-48 months).

RESULTS: Participants in the placebo group displayed cognitive and functional decline, whereas lithium-treated patients remained stable over 2 years. Lithium treatment was associated with better performance on memory and attention tests after 24 months, and with a significant increase in CSF amyloid-beta peptide (Aβ1-42) after 36 months.

CONCLUSIONS: Long-term lithium attenuates cognitive and functional decline in amnestic MCI, and modifies Alzheimer's disease-related CSF biomarkers. The present data reinforces the disease-modifying properties of lithium in the MCI-Alzheimer's disease continuum.


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