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Researchers Test Lithium as Radiation Protector

Study in mice hints at possible use in brain cancer treatment

WEDNESDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- Lithium may help protect brain cells when people with brain cancer undergo radiation therapy, a new study suggests.

Cranial radiation therapy can cause long-term neurological effects, particularly in children, according to researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. But they explain that lithium has brain-protective properties that might reduce these side effects.

In mice that underwent radiation therapy, the researchers found that lithium's promotion of DNA repair protected nerves in the brain's hippocampus. Lithium-treated mice had fewer double-strand DNA breaks than mice that were not given lithium.

"This decrease was associated with increased markers for the non-homologous end-joining DNA repair pathway," according to background information in a Vanderbilt news release. "When this pathway was blocked in the mice, lithium provided substantially less protection to the hippocampal nerve cells."

The finding led the authors to conclude that "lithium should be considered as a possible treatment to reduce the long-term neurological side effects of cranial radiation therapy, particularly in children."

And someday, they added, "targeted therapies to enhance DNA repair may provide an avenue to future therapeutic development."

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about treatments for brain cancer in children.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Investigation, news release, April 1, 2009

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