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OBJECTIVEWe recently reported that delayed lithium therapy can improve stroke recovery in rats by augmenting neurovascular remodeling. We tested the hypothesis that lithium can promote the expression of growth factors in brain endothelial cells and astrocytes.
METHODSHuman brain microvascular endothelial cells and primary rat cortical astrocytes were exposed to lithium chloride in serum-free medium. We examined 2 representative growth factors: brain-derived neurotrophic factor and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Cell lysates were collected for Western blot analysis. Conditioned media was analyzed with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. SB-216763 and LY294002 were used to assess the roles of the glycogen synthase kinase-3beta (GSK-3beta) and PI3-K signaling in the lithium-induced responses.
RESULTSNo consistent responses were observed for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. However, lithium (0.2 to 20 mmol/L) increased the phosphorylation of GSK-3beta and promoted VEGF secretion in a concentration-dependent manner in both endothelial and astrocyte cells. For endothelial cells, the potent GSK-3beta inhibitor SB-216763 upregulated VEGF, whereas inhibition of PI3-K with LY294002 suppressed lithium-induced responses in both phospho-GSK-3beta and VEGF. In contrast, neither inhibition of GSK-3beta nor inhibition of PI3-K had any detectable effects on VEGF levels in astrocytes.
CONCLUSIONSLithium promotes VEGF expression through PI3-K/GSK-3beta-dependent and -independent pathways in brain endothelium and astrocytes, respectively. This growth factor signaling mechanism may contribute to lithium's reported ability to promote neurovascular remodeling after stroke.