Low-Dose Lithium for the Treatment of Behavioral Symptoms in Frontotemporal Dementia (Lithium)

  • End date
    Mar 17, 2023
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    Columbia University
Updated on 24 February 2022
mental state exam
mini-mental state examination
placebo pill


Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a progressive neurodegenerative illness that affects the frontal and anterior temporal lobes of the brain. Changes in behavior, including agitation, aggression, and repetitive behaviors, are common symptoms in FTD. The investigators currently do not have good medications to treat these symptoms in FTD, and the medications the investigators use often have side effects. In this project, the investigators will test the use of low-dose lithium, compared to a placebo pill, for the treatment of behavioral symptoms in FTD. Lithium greatly reduces the behavioral symptoms of bipolar disorder, and many have found low-dose lithium to be well-tolerated in patients with dementia. Lithium appears to inhibit the creation of a protein involved in many cases of FTD called tau.


Behavioral symptoms of Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), including agitation, aggression, and inappropriate repetitive behaviors are common, distressing to patients and caregivers, often lead to institutionalization, and can be very difficult and expensive to treat. There is a dearth of medication for treating these symptoms in FTD. Typically, antidepressants and antipsychotic medications are prescribed - which low efficacy and, with the latter class, carry serious adverse effects such as parkinsonism and increased cardiovascular-related mortality. The investigators propose a study of the efficacy of lithium carbonate compared to placebo in the treatment of agitation, aggression, and inappropriate repetitive behaviors in 60 patients with FTD in a randomized, double-blind, two-arm parallel 12-week trial. Lithium is a highly effective treatment for mania and symptoms of agitation or aggression in bipolar disorder. It also inhibits tau aggregation and phosphorylation, leading to considerable interest in its use as a disease-modifying treatment for tauopathies such as FTD and Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, earlier trials using typical doses (i.e., doses prescribed for treatment of bipolar disorder) showed high incidence of serious adverse effects (including confusion and delirium). For the study proposed study the investigators will: 1) use lower doses and lower target serum concentrations than have preceding trials (shown in preliminary data from a Columbia study and data from other labs to be well-tolerated) and 2) target behavioral symptoms rather than cognitive outcomes.

Condition Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD)
Treatment Placebo, Lithium Carbonate
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT02862210
SponsorColumbia University
Last Modified on24 February 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Age 40-85
A diagnosis of behavioral variant FTD (bv-FTD) or semantic variant Primary Progressive Aphasia (sv-PPA, which is generally accompanied by a behavioral syndrome), or agrammatic/non-fluent Primary Progressive Aphasia (nfv-PPA) with behavioral symptoms
Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI) agitation/aggression subscale score 4 or disinhibition subscale score 4 or repetitive behavior subscale 4 or total score 6\. On each subscale, a score higher than 4 represents moderate to severe symptoms
Folstein Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score 5-26/30
An study partner (usually a family member) is required to provide information during interviews about the patient
Capacity to consent. Subjects without capacity to consent must have capacity to appoint a surrogate
Structural MRI or CT scan after symptom onset

Exclusion Criteria

Medical contraindication or history of intolerability to lithium, falls in the last month, current abnormal thyroid functions (T3, T4 or thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH); treated hypothyroidism with normal thyroid function tests will not lead to exclusion), creatinine level > 1.5 mg/100 ml or glomerular filtration rate < 44 ml/min/1.73m2 will also lead to exclusion
The diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder
Alcohol or substance use disorder in the prior 6 months
Current diagnosis of other major neurological disorder, e.g., Alzheimer's Disease (AD), stroke with residual clinical deficits, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease. Subjects with MRI or CT evidence of cerebrovascular disease but without clinical signs of stroke will be included
Sitting blood pressure > 150/90 mm Hg, unstable cardiac disease, severe or unstable medical illness
Use of medications, including diuretics, known to have adverse effects when combined with lithium. Use of antipsychotic medications will be permitted
Current major depression or suicidality or dangerous behavior with risk of harm to self and others
Corrected QT interval (QTc) interval > 460 ms at the time of baseline electrocardiogram (EKG)
Woman of child-bearing potential
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