, Volume 205, Issue 3, pp 419–429

Early effects of mood stabilizers on the Akt/GSK-3β signaling pathway and on cell survival and proliferation

  • Jean-Michel Aubry
  • Michèle Schwald
  • Eladia Ballmann
  • Félicien Karege
Original Investigation

DOI: 10.1007/s00213-009-1551-2

Cite this article as:
Aubry, JM., Schwald, M., Ballmann, E. et al. Psychopharmacology (2009) 205: 419. doi:10.1007/s00213-009-1551-2



Lithium, some of the anticonvulsants, and several second-generation antipsychotic drugs are common medications widely prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. Molecular targets and cellular events that mediate their effects have been described for these drugs but are only partially unraveled. Few comparative studies have been performed.


We evaluated seven mood stabilizers (MS) in the same in vitro system and found several differences and similarities in their cellular mechanisms (proliferation and cell survival). As some MS were previously shown to activate the Akt/GSK-3β axis, this pathway was explored for other drugs.

Materials and methods

The SH-SY5Y cells were cultured in RPMI-1640 medium. Effects of MS drugs on serum-induced cell proliferation and on slowing of cell death were analyzed. Phosphorylation and expression of Akt-1 and GSK-3β mRNA and protein were assessed for the seven drugs as well.


Lithium, Valproate, Olanzapine, and Clozapine enhance proliferation and protect cells against serum withdrawal-induced injury. These drugs also activate Akt-1 and GSK-3β phosphorylation. Interestingly, gene expression of Akt-1 mRNA and protein, but not GSK-3β, was increased. The other drugs Lamotrigine, Haloperidol, and Carbamazepine did not affect cellular events nor activate Akt/GSK-3β axis.


Valproate and atypical antipsychotics (Olanzapine and Clozapine) regulate SH-SY5Y cell proliferation and survival, activate the Akt/GSK-3β axis, and stimulate gene expression of Akt-1 mRNA and protein, as does Lithium. The other medications have no effect. The study shows the importance of the Akt/GSK-3 axis in MS actions but also pinpoints a different dependence of these drugs on this signaling axis.


Mood stabilizersSH-SY5Y cell proliferationNeuroprotectionAkt–GSK-3βSignaling axis

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Michel Aubry
    • 2
  • Michèle Schwald
    • 1
  • Eladia Ballmann
    • 1
  • Félicien Karege
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medical GeneticsGeneva University Hospitals and Geneva UniversityChêne-BourgSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry, Bipolar ProgramGeneva University Hospitals and University of GenevaGenevaSwitzerland