, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 173-202

Mood stabilizers target cellular plasticity and resilience cascades

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Abstract

Bipolar disorder is a devastating disease with a lifetime incidence of about 1% in the general population. Suicide is the cause of death in 10 to 15% of patients and in addition to suicide, mood disorders are associated with many other harmful health effects. Mood stabilizers are medications used to treat bipolar disorder. In addition to their therapeutic effects for the treatment of acute manic episodes, mood stabilizers are useful as prophylaxis against future episodes and as adjunctive antidepressant medications. The most established and investigated mood-stabilizing drugs are lithium and valproate but other anticonvulsants (such as carbamazepine and lamotrigine) and antipsychotics are also considered as mood stabilizers. Despite the efficacy of these diverse medications, their mechanisms of action remain, to a great extent, unknown. Lithium’s inhibition of some enzymes, such as inositol monophosphatase and gycogen synthase kinase-3, probably results in its mood-stabilizing effects. Valproate may share its anticonvulsant target with its mood-stabilizing target or may act through other mechanisms. It has been shown that lithium, valproate, and/or carbamazepine regulate numerous factors involved in cell survival pathways, including cyclic adenine monophospate response element-binding protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, bcl-2, and mitogen-activated protein kinases. These drugs have been suggested to have neurotrophic and neuroprotective properties that ameliorate impairments of cellular plasticity and resilience underlying the pathophysiology of mood disorders. This article also discusses approaches to develop novel treatments specifically for bipolar disorder.