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HELIOS-BD: Lithium's mechanism in bipolar disorder - investigating the light hypersensitivity hypothesis

Funder: Wellcome Trust (£3.5m)
Project duration: 2023-2028
Principal Investigator: Prof Daniel Smith, University of Edinburgh
Collaborating Institutions: University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University, Northumbria University, Technical University Munich

Project website: Helios-BD

Our primary hypothesis is that lithium is effective in bipolar disorder because it reduces hypersensitivity to evening light, making individuals less vulnerable to light-induced circadian disruption. If correct, this discovery will back-translate into more precise sub-phenotyping of early-stage bipolar disorder and new and more targeted chronotherapy approaches. We will test:
  • the extent to which individuals with bipolar disorder are hypersensitive to the effects of evening light
  • whether lithium works via a mechanism that decreases retinal sensitivity to light-induced circadian disruption
  • whether there is a microstructural basis in the retina for this hypersensitivity and its attenuation by lithium therapy.
These questions will be addressed at multiple levels of explanation across six complementary workstreams.
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