Lithium is the smallest monovalent cation with many different biological effects.
Although lithium is present in the pharmacotherapy of psychiatric illnesses for decades, its
precise mechanism of action is still not clarified. Today lithium represents first-line therapy
for bipolar disorders (because it possesses both antimanic and antidepressant properties) and
the adjunctive treatment for major depression (due to its antisuicidal effects). Beside, lithium
showed some protective effects in neurological diseases including acute neural injury, chronic
degenerative conditions, Alzheimer's disease as well as in treating leucopenia, hepatitis and
some renal diseases. Recent evidence suggested that lithium also possesses some anticancer
properties due to its inhibition of Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta (GSK3β) which is included
in the regulation of a lot of important cellular processes such as: glycogen metabolism,
inflammation, immunomodulation, apoptosis, tissue injury, regeneration etc.
Although recent evidence suggested a potential utility of lithium in different conditions, its
broader use in clinical practice still trails. The reason for this is a narrow therapeutic index of
lithium, numerous toxic effects in various organ systems and some clinically relevant interactions
with other drugs. Additionally, it is necessary to perform more preclinical as well as
clinical studies in order to a precise therapeutic range of lithium, as well as its detailed
mechanism of action. The aim of this review is to summarize the current knowledge concerning
the pharmacological and toxicological effects of lithium.