Putative Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Use of Lithium in Children and Adolescents: A Critical Review

Simone Pisano, Marco Pozzi, Gennaro Catone, Giulia Scrinzi, Emilio Clementi, Giangennaro Coppola, Annarita Milone, Carmela Bravaccio, Paramala Santosh, Gabriele Masi

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    BACKGROUND: Lithium is a first-line treatment for bipolar disorder in adults, but its mechanism of action is still far from clear. Furthermore, evidences of its use in pediatric populations are sparse, not only for bipolar disorders, but also for other possible indications. OBJECTIVES: To provide a synthesis of published data on the possible mechanisms of action of lithium, as well as on its use in pediatric samples, including pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and safety data. METHODS: Clinical trials in pediatric samples with at least one standardized measure of efficacy/ effectiveness were included in this review. We considered: i) randomized and open label trials, ii) combination studies iii) augmentation studies iv) case series including at least 5 patients. RESULTS: Different and non-alternative mechanisms of action can explain the clinical efficacy of lithium. Clinical studies in pediatric samples suggest that lithium is effective in managing manic symptoms/episodes of bipolar disorder, both in the acute phase and as maintenance strategy. Efficacy on depressive symptoms/phases of bipolar disorder is much less clear, while studies do not support its use in unipolar depression and severe mood dysregulation. Conversely, it may be effective on aggression in the context of conduct disorder. Other possible indications, with limited published evidence, are the acute attacks in Kleine-Levin syndrome, behavioral symptoms of X-fragile syndrome, and the management of clozapine- or chemotherapy- induced neutropenia. Generally, lithium resulted relatively safe. CONCLUSIONS: Lithium seems an effective and well-tolerated medication in pediatric bipolar disorder and aggression, while further evidences are needed for other clinical indications.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)318-341
    Number of pages24
    JournalCurrent Neuropharmacology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


    • adolescents
    • Children
    • efficacy
    • lithium
    • mechanism of action
    • pharmacokinetics
    • safety.


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