• bipolar disorder;
  • differentiation;
  • forebrain;
  • lithium;
  • mood stabilizer;
  • stem cell


Valproate, an anticonvulsant drug used to treat bipolar disorder, was studied for its ability to promote neurogenesis from embryonic rat cortical or striatal primordial stem cells. Six days of valproate exposure increased by up to fivefold the number and percentage of tubulin β III-immunopositive neurons, increased neurite outgrowth, and decreased by fivefold the number of astrocytes without changing the number of cells. Valproate also promoted neuronal differentiation in human fetal forebrain stem cell cultures. The neurogenic effects of valproate on rat stem cells exceeded those obtained with the neurotrophins brain-derived growth factor (BDNF) or NT-3, and slightly exceeded the effects obtained with another mood stabilizer, lithium. No effect was observed with carbamazepine. Most of the newly formed neurons were GABAergic, as shown by 10-fold increases in neurons that immunostained for GABA and the GABA-synthesizing enzyme GAD65/67. Double immunostaining for bromodeoxyuridine and tubulin β III showed that valproate increased by four- to fivefold the proliferation of neuronal progenitors derived from rat stem cells and increased cyclin D2 expression. Valproate also regulated the expression of survival genes, Bad and Bcl-2, at different times of treatment. The expression of prostaglandin E synthase, analyzed by quantitative RT-PCR, was increased by ninefold as early as 6 h into treatment by valproate. The enhancement of GABAergic neuron numbers, neurite outgrowth, and phenotypic expression via increases in the neuronal differentiation of neural stem cell may contribute to the therapeutic effects of valproate in the treatment of bipolar disorder.