Brain development after intrauterine exposure to lithium: A magnetic resonance imaging study in school-age children

Eline M.P. Poels, Astrid M. Kamperman, Hilmar H. Bijma, Adriaan Honig, Inge L. van Kamp, Steven A. Kushner, Witte J.G. Hoogendijk, Veerle Bergink, Tonya White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: Lithium is often continued during pregnancy to reduce the risk of perinatal mood episodes for women with bipolar disorder. However, little is known about the effect of intrauterine lithium exposure on brain development. The aim of this study was to investigate brain structure in children after intrauterine exposure to lithium. Methods: Participants were offspring, aged 8–14 years, of women with a diagnosis of bipolar spectrum disorder. In total, 63 children participated in the study: 30 with and 33 without intrauterine exposure to lithium. Global brain volume outcomes and white matter integrity were assessed using structural MRI and diffusion tensor imaging, respectively. Primary outcomes were total brain, cortical and subcortical gray matter, cortical white matter, lateral ventricles, cerebellum, hippocampus and amygdala volumes, cortical thickness, cortical surface area and global fractional anisotropy, and mean diffusivity. To assess how our data compared to the general population, global brain volumes were compared to data from the Generation R study (N = 3243). Results: In our primary analyses, we found no statistically significant associations between intrauterine exposure to lithium and structural brain measures. There was a non-significant trend toward reduced subcortical gray matter volume. Compared to the general population, lithium-exposed children showed reduced subcortical gray and cortical white matter volumes. Conclusion: We found no differences in brain structure between lithium-exposed and non-lithium-exposed children aged 8–14 years following correction for multiple testing. While a rare population to study, future and likely multi-site studies with larger datasets are required to validate and extend these initial findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-190
Number of pages10
JournalBipolar Disorders
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2023


  • bipolar disorder
  • brain
  • child
  • lithium
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • pregnancy


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