Valproate activates the Notch3/c-FLIP signaling cascade: a strategy to attenuate white matter hyperintensities in bipolar disorder in late life?


  • This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The authors of this paper do not have any commercial associations that might pose a conflict of interest in connection with this manuscript. HKM is now at Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development.

Husseini K. Manji, MD
Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology NIMH-NIH
35 Convent Drive, Room 1C-912
Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
Fax: 301-480-0123


Objectives:  Increased prevalence of deep white matter hyperintensities (DWMHs) has been consistently observed in patients with geriatric depression and bipolar disorder. DMWHs are associated with chronicity, disability, and poor quality of life. They are thought to be ischemic in their etiology and may be related to the underlying pathophysiology of mood disorders in the elderly. Notably, these lesions strikingly resemble radiological findings related to the cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephelopathy (CADASIL) syndrome. CADASIL arises from mutations in Notch3, resulting in impaired signaling via cellular Fas-associated death domain-like interleukin-1-beta-converting enzyme-inhibitory protein (c-FLIP) through an extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-dependent pathway. These signaling abnormalities have been postulated to underlie the progressive degeneration of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC). This study investigates the possibility that the anticonvulsant valproate (VPA), which robustly activates the ERK mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade, may exert cytoprotective effects on VSMC through the Notch3/c-FLIP pathway.

Methods:  Human VSMC were treated with therapeutic concentrations of VPA subchronically. c-FLIP was knocked down via small interfering ribonucleic acid transfection. Cell survival, apoptosis, and protein levels were measured.

Results:  VPA increased c-FLIP levels dose- and time-dependently and promoted VSMC survival in response to Fas ligand-induced apoptosis in VSMC. The anti-apoptotic effect of VPA was abolished by c-FLIP knockdown. VPA also produced similar in vivo effects in rat brain.

Conclusions:  These results raise the intriguing possibility that VPA may be a novel therapeutic agent for the treatment of CADASIL and related disorders. They also suggest that VPA might decrease the liability of patients with late-life mood disorders to develop DWMHs.