Malaria, caused by the Plasmodium parasite is still a health problem worldwide due to resistance of the pathogen to current anti-malarials. The search for new anti-malarial agents has become more crucial with the emergence of chloroquine-resistant Plasmodium falciparum strains. Protein kinases such as mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), MAPK kinase, cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) and glycogen synthase kinase- 3(GSK-3) of parasitic protozoa are potential drug targets. GSK-3 is an enzyme that plays a vital role in multiple cellular processes, and has been linked to pathogenesis of several diseases such as type II diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. In the present study, the antiplasmodial property of LiCl, a known GSK-3 inhibitor, was evaluated in vivo for its antimalarial effect against mice infected with Plasmodium berghei. Infected ICR mice were intraperitoneally administered with LiCl for four consecutive days before (prophylactic test) and after (suppressive test) inoculation of P. berghei-parasitised erythrocytes. Results from the suppressive test (post-infection LiCl treatment) showed inhibition of erythrocytic parasitemia development by 62.06%, 85.67% and 85.18% as compared to nontreated controls for the 100 mg/kg, 300 mg/kg and 600 mg/kg dosages respectively. Both 300 mg/kg and 600 mg/kg LiCl showed similar significant (P<0.05) suppressive values to that obtained with chloroquine-treated mice (86% suppression). The prophylactic test indicated a significantly (P<0.05) high protective effect on mice pre-treated with LiCl with suppression levels relatively comparable to chloroquine (84.07% and 86.26% suppression for the 300 mg/kg and 600 mg/kg LiCl dosages respectively versus 92.86% suppression by chloroquine). In both the suppressive and prophylactic tests, LiCl-treated animals survived longer than their non-treated counterparts. Mortality of the non-treated mice was 100% within 6 to 7 days of parasite inoculation whereas mice administered with LiCl survived beyond 9 days. Healthy non-infected mice administered with 600 mg/ kg LiCl for four consecutive days also showed decreased mortality compared to animals receiving lower doses of LiCl; three of the seven mice intraperitoneally injected with the former dose of LiCl did not survive more than 24 h after administration of LiCl whereas animals given the lower LiCl doses survived beyond four days of LiCl administration. To date, no direct evidence of anti-malarial activity in vivo or in vitro has been reported for LiCl. Evidence of anti-plasmodial activity of lithium in a mouse infection model is presented in this study.
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