Nematode worms treated with lithium showed an astonishing 46 percent increase in lifespan, raising the tantalizing question of whether humans taking the bipolar treatment are also taking an anti-aging medication. Conducted by the Buck Institute, the study results were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Lithium has been used to treat mood disorders for decades but the underlying mechanism of its therapeutic action is not understood. In humans, lithium’s therapeutic range is very limited and the drug has serious side effects. Study leader, Gordon J. Lithgow, said the research showed that longevity was increased in the worms when the lithium “turned down” the activity of a gene that modulates the basic structure of chromosomes.
The process of normal aging in humans is intrinsically linked to the onset of neurodegenerative disease. However, the cellular changes and events due to aging that impact neurodegeneration are not yet understood and compounds such as lithium could provide insights into the biomedical link between aging and disease. Lithgow and his lab are now surveying tens of thousands of compounds for effects on aging.