Chronic Lithium Treatment in a Rat Model of Basal Forebrain Cholinergic Depletion: Effects on Memory Impairment and Neurodegeneration

Francesca Gelfo, Debora Cutuli, Annalisa Nobili, Paola De Bartolo, Marcello D'Amelio, Laura Petrosini, Carlo Caltagirone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is an age-related neurodegenerative disorder with multifactorial etiopathogenesis, characterized by progressive loss of memory and other cognitive functions. A fundamental neuropathological feature of AD is the early and severe brain cholinergic neurodegeneration. Lithium is a monovalent cation classically utilized in the treatment of mood disorders, but recent evidence also advances a beneficial potentiality of this compound in neurodegeneration. Interestingly, lithium acts on several processes whose alterations characterize the brain cholinergic impairment at short and long term. On this basis, the aim of the present research was to evaluate the potential beneficial effects of a chronic lithium treatment in preventing the damage that a basal forebrain cholinergic neurodegeneration provokes, by investigating memory functions and neurodegeneration correlates. Adult male rats were lesioned by bilateral injections of the immunotoxin 192 IgG-Saporin into the basal forebrain. Starting 7 days before the surgery, the animals were exposed to a 30-day lithium treatment, consisting of a 0.24 Li2CO3 diet. Memory functions were investigated by the open field test with objects, the sociability and preference for social novelty test, and the Morris water maze. Hippocampal and neocortical choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) levels and caspase-3 activity were determined. Cholinergic depletion significantly impaired spatial and social recognition memory, decreased hippocampal and neocortical ChAT levels and increased caspase-3 activity. The chronic lithium treatment significantly rescued memory performances but did not modulate ChAT availability and caspase-3 activity. The present findings support the lithium protective effects against the cognitive impairment that characterizes the brain cholinergic depletion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1505-1518
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2017


  • 192 IgG-Saporin
  • Basal forebrain
  • Cholinergic depletion
  • Lithium
  • Memory deficits
  • Neuroprotection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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