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RATIONALE: Emotion regulation (ER) difficulties have been previously described in bipolar disorder (BD). Whilst lithium has been shown to be effective in the treatment of BD, the mechanisms underlying lithium's effect on mood stabilisation remain unclear. OBJECTIVES: Unravelling lithium's effect on psychological processes impaired in BD, such as ER, could address this translational gap and inform the development of new treatments. METHODS: This study investigated the neural effects of lithium (800mg) on ER in 33 healthy volunteers in a double-blind between-groups design, randomised to lithium (n=17) or placebo (n=16) for 11 days. At treatment completion, participants underwent 3-Tesla fMRI scan whilst performing an ER task. RESULTS: Reappraisal reduced negative affect across groups and led to the expected increase in frontal brain activity. Participants receiving lithium showed (1) decreased activation in prefrontal and posterior parietal cortices and connectivity between the fronto-limbic network (Z>2.3, p<0.05 corrected); and (2) increased activity in the right superior temporal gyrus (Z>3.1, p<0.05 corrected) and connectivity between the right medial temporal gyrus (MTG) and left middle frontal gyrus (Z>2.3, p<0.05 corrected) during reappraisal. Further effects of lithium were found in response to negative picture presentation, whereby an anticorrelation was found between the left amygdala and the frontal cortex, and greater connectivity between the right MTG and the bilateral medial prefrontal cortex extending into the paracingulate gyrus, compared to placebo (Z>2.3, p < 0.05 corrected). CONCLUSIONS: These results show a potential effect of lithium on ER through its effects on activity and connectivity, and further elaborate the neural underpinnings of cognitive reappraisal. Future work should investigate longer term effects of lithium on ER in BD, ultimately benefitting the development of novel and more effective treatments.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychopharmacology (Berl)

Publication Date



Emotional processing, Emotional regulation, Lithium, Task fMRI