Putative mechanisms of action and clinical use of lithium in children and adolescents: A critical review: Current Neuropharmacology

S. Pisano, M. Pozzi, G. Catone, G. Scrinzi, E. Clementi, G. Coppola, A. Milone, C. Bravaccio, P. Santosh, G. Masi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Lithium is a first-line treatment for bipolar disorder in adults, but its mechanism of action is still far from clear. Furthermore, evidences of its use in pediatric populations are sparse, not only for bipolar disorders, but also for other possible indications. Objectives: To provide a synthesis of published data on the possible mechanisms of action of lithium, as well as on its use in pediatric samples, including pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and safety data. Methods: Clinical trials in pediatric samples with at least one standardized measure of efficacy/ effectiveness were included in this review. We considered: i) randomized and open label trials, ii) combination studies iii) augmentation studies iv) case series including at least 5 patients. Results: Different and non-alternative mechanisms of action can explain the clinical efficacy of lithium. Clinical studies in pediatric samples suggest that lithium is effective in managing manic symptoms/episodes of bipolar disorder, both in the acute phase and as maintenance strategy. Efficacy on depressive symptoms/phases of bipolar disorder is much less clear, while studies do not support its use in unipolar depression and severe mood dysregulation. Conversely, it may be effective on aggression in the context of conduct disorder. Other possible indications, with limited published evidence, are the acute attacks in Kleine-Levin syndrome, behavioral symptoms of X-fragile syndrome, and the management of clozapine- or chemotherapy- induced neutropenia. Generally, lithium resulted relatively safe. Conclusions: Lithium seems an effective and well-tolerated medication in pediatric bipolar disorder and aggression, while further evidences are needed for other clinical indications. © 2019 Bentham Science Publishers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)318-341
Number of pages24
JournalCurr. Neuropharmacol.
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Adolescents
  • Children
  • Efficacy
  • Lithium
  • Mechanism of action
  • Pharmacokinetics
  • Safety
  • 6 phosphofructo 2 kinase
  • adenylate cyclase
  • beta arrestin
  • beta arrestin 2
  • beta catenin
  • brain derived neurotrophic factor
  • calcium calmodulin dependent protein kinase kinase
  • clozapine
  • cyclic AMP dependent protein kinase
  • diacylglycerol
  • dynamin I
  • fragile X mental retardation protein
  • G protein coupled receptor
  • glutamate receptor
  • granulocyte colony stimulating factor
  • hexokinase
  • inositol
  • inositol trisphosphate
  • lithium
  • microtubule associated protein 1
  • phosphatidylinositol 3 kinase
  • phosphatidylinositol 4 phosphate kinase
  • phosphatidylinositol 4,5 bisphosphate
  • phosphoglucomutase
  • phospholipase C
  • placebo
  • tamoxifen
  • thyrotropin
  • transcription factor ARNTL
  • valproate semisodium
  • antidepressant agent
  • lithium derivative
  • tranquilizer
  • Akt signaling
  • aplastic anemia
  • Article
  • autism
  • bipolar disorder
  • blood cell count
  • body weight
  • bone marrow suppression
  • bone marrow transplantation
  • calcium signaling
  • cell cycle progression
  • cell differentiation
  • cell survival
  • conduct disorder
  • depression inventory
  • drug efficacy
  • drug mechanism
  • drug safety
  • excitotoxicity
  • fragile X syndrome
  • gene frequency
  • genetic polymorphism
  • glucose intake
  • Hamilton Depression Rating Scale
  • human
  • hypersomnia
  • IC50
  • IC90
  • lean body weight
  • mood disorder
  • neutropenia
  • neutrophil count
  • nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • oxidative stress
  • proton nuclear magnetic resonance
  • psychological rating scale
  • randomized controlled trial (topic)
  • recurrence risk
  • schizophrenia
  • Young Mania Rating Scale
  • adolescent
  • age
  • child
  • clinical trial (topic)
  • major depression
  • metabolism
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antimanic Agents
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Child
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Depressive Disorder, Major
  • Humans
  • Lithium Compounds
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


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