“Atorvastatin for the Treatment of Lithium-Induced Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus: A Randomized Controlled Trial”


Lithium remains the gold-standard treatment for bipolar disorder, with 30-40% of patients with responding preferentially to this medication 1-3. Additionally, lithium is commonly used in treatment-resistant depression, and other psychiatric disorders (e.g. schizoaffective disorder). Lithium is especially valuable considering the great difficulty in achieving and maintaining symptomatic remission 4,5, the high rates of disability, as well as tremendous personal, family, and societal costs associated with bipolar disorder and treatment-resistant depression 6,7. Despite this, clinicians are increasingly avoiding lithium, largely due to fear of irreversible chronic kidney disease (CKD), particularly in North America 8-10.

It is well known that lithium exposure, even when dosed safely (<1.0mmol/L in adults 11 and <0.8mmol/L in geriatric patients 12,13), can increase the risk of CKD by 3 times, in large part through Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus (NDI) 14-19. NDI itself has also been associated with acute kidney injury 20, and life-threatening hypernatremia 21, which is an electrolyte imbalance characterized by high levels of blood sodium. Aside from hypertension, diabetes mellitus, aging, and other nonspecific CKD risk factors.

NDI is characterized by excessive thirst (polydipsia) due to increased production of dilute urine (polyuria). In NDI, lithium is believed to interact with the inositol monophosphate 22 and protein kinase C 23 pathways, thereby affecting calcium-related intracellular signaling, cyclic AMP (cAMP), inhibition of Glycogen Synthase Kinase-3 Beta (GSK3Beta) 24, activation of MAP Kinase 25 and many other pathways 22.

NDI occurs commonly in lithium users: 50% of chronic lithium users have urinary concentrating difficulties, with 12-19% have decreased urine osmolality (UOsm) <300mOsm/Kg)26-28.
To date, amiloride (5-20mg/day) is the only medication with prior evidence of therapeutic effectiveness in NDI from randomized clinical trials 29,30. However as a potassium-sparing diuretic 31, amiloride can lead to lithium-level elevations, and can thereby theoretically increase the risk of lithium-associated CNS and acute renal toxicity 16.

There is a need for novel, well-tolerated agents for the treatment of lithium-induced NDI.
We recently demonstrated that statins, which are well-tolerated 32 and commonly used medications, are associated with low lithium-induced NDI risk in the first and only previous cross-sectional study examining statins and NDI in humans (n=71) 33. In this study we examined current lithium users aged 20-95, who had a mean lithium duration and serum lithium level of 10.6 years and 0.62mmol/L, respectively. Patients were assessed for UOsm following 10-hour water-restriction, a reliable measure of NDI 34. We found that 0% (0/17) of statin users compared to 20.4% (11/54) on non-users had UOsm <300mOsm/Kg following 10-hour water-restriction (Fisher’s Exact p=0.055) 33. The main statin prescribed in our previous study was atorvastatin 10-40mg/day (n=10) 33, which is the most widely used statin for cardiovascular disease 35. Atorvastatin and other statins are well-tolerated and have not been found to have adverse effects on mood, cognition 32, or renal function 36.

The mechanism by which statins may treat NDI is not yet known, but two independent mice studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of statins in treating genetic forms of NDI 37,38. In those mice models of genetic NDI, prostaglandin and intracellular cytoskeleton proteins pathways were thought to explain statins’ activity on NDI 37.

In preparation for this project, our co-investigators Drs. Trepiccione and Christensen have initiated a pilot study in mice to investigate whether atorvastatin treatment could improve the lithium-induced NDI. NDI was induced in 10 mice by feeding mice with a LiCl-enriched diet for 15 days 39. After induction of NDI, a group of mice received intraperitoneal injection of atorvastatin (n=5) and a control group received vehicle (n=5) for additional 5 days in parallel with continued lithium treatment. Although our small statistical sample do not allow us to reach significance, (n=5 per group), the mice receiving atorvastatin showed a tendency to reduce polyuria, as showed in figure 1 below:

Figure 1. Effect of Atorvastatin Treatment on Urinary Output in Lithium-Exposed Mice (n=10)

In line with this research, our present research protocol aims at conducting a randomized controlled trial investigating a statin, such as atorvastatin, in the treatment of lithium-induced NDI.

Hypothesis and Study Objectives:

Study Objective: To assess the efficacy of statins in treating NDI in lithium-using individuals.

Hypothesis: Participants randomized to atorvastatin will experience improved (higher) 10-hour water restriction urine osmolality after 12 weeks of treatment, compared with those randomized to placebo. In this RCT study, we hope to evaluate the magnitude of this effect in preparation for a confirmatory randomized controlled trial.

Primary Outcome Measures:

  • Change in Urine Osmolality (UOsm in mOsm/Kg) [ Time Frame: 12 weeks follow-up ]
Secondary Outcome Measures:

  • Change in aquaporins-2 (AQP-2) [ Time Frame: 12 weeks follow-up ]
  • Change in Urine Volume (mL/24h) [ Time Frame: 12 weeks follow-up ]
  • Change in Self-Reported Fluid Intake [ Time Frame: 12 weeks follow-up ]
Other Outcome Measures:

  • Change in Cognition in the domain of executive function [ Time Frame: 12 weeks follow-up ]
  • Using Screen for Cognitive Impairment in Psychiatry (SCIP), Wisconsin Card Sorting task, Trials A/Trials B tests
  • Safety Measures [ Time Frame: 12 weeks follow-up ]
    Creatine kinase (CK) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Liver function tests Thyroid function (TSH) Calcium levels eGFR


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