Past Projects

Past Projects


MRC_LAMP (2014)

Does lithium block the effects of amphetamines?


The theory

Lithium is used to treat mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, improving the symptoms of mania. We think this may be due to it blocking the actions of certain brain chemicals, notably dopamine.


Amphetamines reproduce some of the features of mania by boosting brain dopamine levels. They can therefore be used as a model of bipolar disorder in otherwise healthy subjects.

The experiment

Volunteers had a brain scan whilst being given a dose of methamphetamine, creating and investigating a mental state similar to mania. Subjects then took a course of either lithium or dummy 'sugar pills' before returning for a second dose of methamphetamine, again during a scan. We analysed the scans taken before and after each of the drugs given to look at which parts of their brains were affected by amphetamines and whether lithium altered these effects.


The results

We know the answer but the world at large doesn't. Watch this space for news of our publications!



MRC_LITE (2013)

Does lithium affect brain structure?


The problem

Lithium appears to increase the size of the brain even after a short course. Specifically, the amount of grey matter seems to increase. How can this be?

The theories

Some argue that lithium helps the brain cells recover from the damage caused by illness. Others think that lithium simply increases the amount of water in the brain. We prefer the third path.

Our ideas

We suspect that lithium does not physically alter the size of the brain, rather it may change the behaviour of water in the tissues. This in turn alters the signal detected during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to create the illusion of a change in size.

The experiment

Standard brain scans were performed before and after lithium treatment, together with more advanced image collection techniques.


The results

There were brain MRI differences before and after lithium. This was likely due to a change in the MRI signal being produced rather than an actual increase in brain volume, thus supporting our initial ideas.


To read about the study in much greater detail, view the full research paper.


MRC_LISP (2011)

Where does all the lithium go?


The problem

When we give a dose of lithium, we don't know how much of it gets into the brain. Strange but true.

The solution

We could remove bits of the brain and measure lithium concentration directly, but that would be a bit messy. Instead, we re-tuned our MR scanner so that it could be used to detect lithium. Simple, though not easy.

Our developments

We can now detect lithium using our MR scanner and a home-made radiowave transceiver. The technique is safe and quick and we are one of only a few centres in the world who can measure lithium in this way. We are constantly working on improvements and developments – for starters, we ordered some posh equipment not made in a shed!

The experiment

Volunteers were asked to take lithium for about a week before having a brain scan. During the brain scan we tuned into the behaviour of lithium in a magnetic field.

The results

The concentration of lithium in the brain was about 80% of that in the blood. The study did not reveal any significant differences in lithium concentrations in different regions of the brain. So, we know how much lithium arrives in the brain but we can't give you a specific destination... yet!

To read about the study in much greater detail, view the full research paper.



Problems with the website? Email Webmaster