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Low doses of lithium carbonate reduce melatonin light sensitivity in healthy volunteers

Karen T. Hallam, James S. Olver, Jennifer E. Horgan, Caroline McGrath, Trevor R. Norman
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1461145704004894 255-259 First published online: 1 June 2005

Abstract

Sensitivity of the pineal hormone melatonin to bright light at night has been posited as a putative marker of affective disorders. Research demonstrates melatonin supersensitivity to light in bipolar disorder, however the role that lithium carbonate plays in this response is unclear. This study assessed the effect of lithium on nocturnal melatonin secretion and sensitivity to light in healthy adults. Ten participants, tested on two nights, had blood samples drawn between 20:00 and 02:30 hours. On testing nights participants were exposed to 200 lux of light between 24:00 and 01:00 hours. Participants took 250 mg of lithium daily for 5 d between testing nights. The results indicated that lithium had a significant effect on sensitivity to light but not on overall melatonin synthesis. This finding has implications on the true magnitude of the melatonin light response in people with bipolar disorder and may elucidate possible mechanisms of action of lithium.

Key words
  • Bipolar disorder
  • light sensitivity
  • lithium carbonate
  • melatonin