The chemical compound ebselen induces lithium-like therapeutic effects but with fewer adverse side effects, in a mouse model of bipolar disorder. The findings, reported in Nature Communications this week, provide validation for some of the mechanisms that are proposed to be involved in bipolar disorder, as well as indicating a potentially safer alternative for the treatment of this condition.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that can disrupt an individual’s daily routine and social interactions. The drug most commonly used to ease the symptoms of the disorder is lithium, however, it is toxic at only twice the therapeutic dosage. Treatment with lithium can also be accompanied by an increase in the risk of side effects such as weight gain, thirst, tremor and kidney damage. Sridhar Vasudevan and colleagues perform a screen of compounds in the National Institutes of Health Clinical Collection library that have a history of use in clinical trials, and find that ebselen, which is safe for human use, inhibits the activity of a key enzyme implicated bipolar disorder with greater potency than lithium. In addition, they also find that ebselen attenuates the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder in a mouse model of the disorder.
Although these studies were carried out in mice, the authors suggest that these findings may facilitate the repurposing of a drug that has already been used in clinical trials. Further studies will be needed to determine if this is possible in humans.