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Human brain 7Li-MRI following low-dose lithium dietary supplementation in healthy participants

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Mary Neal, Dr Victoria Wing, Dr David Cousins, Professor Peter Thelwall



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2024 The Authors. Background: Lithium is an effective mood stabiliser, but its mechanism of action is incompletely defined. Even at very low doses, lithium may have neuroprotective effects, but it is not clear if these relate to brain lithium concentration in vivo. We have developed magnetic resonance imaging (7Li-MRI) methods to detect lithium in the brain following supplementation at a very low dose. Methods: Lithium orotate supplements were taken by nine healthy adult male subjects (5 mg daily) for up to 28 days, providing 2–7 % of the lithium content of a typical therapeutic lithium carbonate dose. One-dimensional 7Li-images were acquired on a 3.0 T MRI scanner. All subjects were scanned on day 14 or 28; seven were scanned on both, one at baseline and one after 7-days washout. Results: 7Li-MR signal amplitude was broadly stable between days 14 and 28. Two subjects had notably higher 7Li-signal intensities (approximately 2–4×) compared to other study participants. Limitations: Lithium adherence was self-reported by all participants without formal validation. The coarse spatial resolution necessary for detection of low concentrations of 7Li exhibits imperfect spatial separation of signal from adjacent pixels. Conclusions: 7Li-MRI performed using a clinical 3T scanner demonstrated detection of lithium in the brain at very low concentration, in the range of approximately 10–60 mM. The methods are suited to studies assessing low dose lithium administration in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, and permit the comparison of different lithium salt preparations at a time of emerging interest in the field.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Neal MA, Strawbridge R, Wing VC, Cousins DA, Thelwall PE

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Affective Disorders

Year: 2024

Volume: 360

Pages: 139-145

Print publication date: 01/09/2024

Online publication date: 27/05/2024

Acceptance date: 24/05/2024

Date deposited: 11/06/2024

ISSN (print): 0165-0327

ISSN (electronic): 1573-2517

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2024.05.128


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Funder referenceFunder name
NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University