bipolar medicationAccording to a recent study published in the journal Nature Communications entitled “A safe lithium mimetic for bipolar disorder,” British researchers are exploring a medication called ebselen as a possible treatment for bipolar disorder in humans. Originally developed to treat stroke, ebselen may be as effective as lithium in treating bipolar mania but carry fewer and less serious side effects than lithium.

As the article points out,

Lithium is the most effective mood stabilizer for the treatment of bipolar disorder, but it is toxic at only twice the therapeutic dosage and has many undesirable side effects.

The researchers discovered ebselen by searching through the National Institutes of Health Clinical Collection, “a library of bioavailable drugs considered clinically safe but without proven use,” looking for a medication to see if any had effects that overlapped with those of lithium, and they found ebselen.

Ebselen appears to function as a neuroprotective agent. Lithium, the traditional and most effective treatment for many people with bipolar disorder, also has neuroprotective qualities. Ebselen also has far fewer side effects than lithium. Lithium can be toxic in only modestly elevated doses, but ebselen does not have this problem.

The researchers found that ebselen reduced manic symptoms in mice that were made manic by giving them amphetamines — a common mouse “model” for mania. The next step will be for ebselen to be tried in humans.

This is an example of looking at medicines that were made for one thing and seeing if they might work on another condition — a process commonly referred to as “repurposing medication.” Having such extensive databases available about medicines and how they work makes it much easier for scientists to look for and find medicines that can be tried in new ways.

Hand with pill photo available from Shutterstock



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    Last reviewed: 10 Jan 2013

APA Reference
Fink, C. (2013). Ebselen May Work Like Lithium with Fewer Serious Side Effects. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from


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Candida Fink, M.D. and Joe Kraynak are authors of
Bipolar Disorder for Dummies.

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