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Keywords:

  • protein kinase C;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • intracellular signaling

Protein kinase C (PKC) is a group of calcium and phopholipid-dependent enzymes, which plays a pivotal role in cell signaling systems. Recently accumulated evidence indicates that alterations in PKC activity play a significant role in the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder. A number of laboratories investigated the effect of mood stabilizers on the regulation of PKC activity in bipolar patients, in animals, and in cultured cells. Following chronic lithium treatment, PKC activation was significantly reduced in rat brains, as measured by the translocation of cytoplasmic PKC to the membrane compartment, or by quantitative binding of the PKC ligand, PDBu. The effect of the therapeutic concentration of lithium in attenuating PKC-dependent intracellular parameters was also demonstrated in cultured cells. More importantly, alterations in platelet PKC was shown in bipolar patients during the manic state of the illness. In comparison to patients with major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, or healthy controls, PKC activity was significantly increased in manic patients, suggesting that changes in PKC may be an illness-specific marker. Interestingly, enhanced PKC activity during mania was suppressed following mood-stabilizer treatment as manic symptoms improved. In parallel to the findings in platelets, postmortem studies demonstrate that membrane-associated PKC and stimulation-induced translocation of cytosolic enzyme to the membrane were also increased in frontal cortex of bipolar patients. Other studies suggest alterations in other signal transduction mechanisms in bipolar disorder. These include alterations in G protein activation, phosphatidylinositol (PI) signaling, cyclic AMP formation, and intracellular calcium homeostasis. The alterations of PKC activity in bipolar disorder may be related to changes in these other intracellular signaling mechanisms. Alternatively, the changes of PKC activity may be the core pathology of the illness. More studies are required to further characterize the association of PKC changes with bipolar disorder, using a proper neuronal model.