Lithium is probably best known as a treatment for bipolar disorder but a very small dose of this element has been recently studied to prevent and slow the progress of AD. However, effective doses can sometimes cause negative side effects. 

Using animal models, scientists from McGill University (Canada) are now suggesting a novel microdose formulation of lithium could not only slow the progression of AD, but also potentially improve cognition at the early stages of decline. They tested a therapeutic agent called NP03, an encapsulated oral lithium formulation that can bypass degradation by acids in the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in high central nervous system uptake. This means significantly lower doses can be administered compared to conventional lithium.

The first study was published in 2017 and established the efficacy of the new microdose lithium formulation in the early or preclinical stages of AD by ß-Amyloid (Aß) deposition and restoring hippocampal neurogenesis. 

Microdoses of lithium at concentrations hundreds of times lower than applied in the clinic for mood disorders were administered at early amyloid pathology stages in the Alzheimer’s-like transgenic rat. Remarkably positive results of this study stimulated the researches to continue working and testing the new formulation on a more advanced pathology.

The new study explores the effects of the microdose formulation of lithium (NP03) on a slightly more advanced stage of AD, when amyloid protein plaques have begun forming and symptomatic signs of cognitive decline are already present. The results impressively demonstrated that NP03 reduced levels of amyloid plaques, reversed memory deficits, and lowered neuroinflammatory markers in the rodent model.

These results point to the potential neuroprotective benefits from sustained lithium microdoses and offer hope for AD treatment. However, it is important to note this particular microdose formulation is still yet to be tested in human subjects with AD, so much more work is necessary before it can be deployed as a clinical treatment.

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