In fragile X syndrome (FXS), it is hypothesized that absence of the fragile X mental retardation protein (FMRP) disrupts regulation of group 1 metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR and mGluR5)-dependent translation in dendrites. Lithium reduces mGluR-activated translation and reverses phenotypes in the dfxr mutant fly and fmr1 knockout mouse. This pilot add-on trial was conducted to evaluate safety and efficacy of lithium in humans with FXS.
Fifteen individuals with FXS, ages 6–23, received lithium titrated to levels of 0.8–1.2 mEq/L. The primary outcome measure, the Aberrant Behavior Checklist – Community Edition (ABC-C) Irritability Subscale, secondary outcome measures (other ABC-C subscales, clinical global improvement scale (CGI), visual analog scale for behavior (VAS), Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS)), exploratory cognitive and psychophysiological measures and an extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) activation assay were administered at baseline and 2 months of treatment. Side effects were quantified with a standardized checklist and lithium level, complete blood count (CBC), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), and chemistry screen were done at baseline, 2 weeks, 4 weeks and 2 months.
The only significant treatment-related side effects were polyuria/polydipsia (n = 7) and elevated TSH (n = 4). Although the ABC-C Irritability Subscale showed only a trend toward improvement, there was significant improvement in the Total ABC-C score (p = 0.005), VAS (p = 0.003), CGI (p = 0.002), VABS Maladaptive Behavior Subscale (p = 0.007), and RBANS List Learning (p = 0.03) and an enhanced ERK activation rate (p = 0.007). Several exploratory tasks proved too difficult for lower-functioning FXS subjects.
Results from this study are consistent with results in mouse and fly models of FXS, and suggest that lithium is well-tolerated and provides functional benefits in FXS, possibly by modifying the underlying neural defect. A placebo-controlled trial of lithium in FXS is warranted.