Solid stress from brain tumors can cause neuronal loss and neurological dysfunction. In a new study, this effect was reversed in mice when they were administered lithium.1 Solid stress was defined by the study authors in Nature Biomedical Engineering as “the compressive and tensile mechanical forces exerted by the solid components of the tissues.”

In brain tumor mouse models, study researchers showed that nodular tumors deformed the surrounding tissue, whereas infiltrative tumors did not. In a cohort of patients with brain tumors, researchers also showed that patients with nodular tumors had lower Karnofksy performance scores before surgery than those who had infiltrative tumors, suggesting nodular tumors “exert significant chronic local compression and tension on the surrounding brain tissue,” which has the potential to affect neurological function, the study authors wrote.

Impaired vascular perfusion was observed in mice with nodular tumors by compressing blood vessels and neuronal nuclei. In a cohort of patients with nodular tumors, impaired vascular perfusion was also observed.

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Compression-induced neuronal damage was prevented or reversed in these mice after treatment with lithium, suggesting a possible intervention for humans who experience solid stress from brain tumors.

“This indicates that protecting brain tissue from the solid-stress–induced dysfunction is pharmacologically possible, and suggests a rapidly translatable use of neuroprotective agents to improve the quality of life in patients with nodular brain tumours,” the study authors wrote in conclusion.


  1. Seano G, Nia HT, Emblem KE, et al. Solid stress in brain tumours causes neuronal loss and neurological dysfunction and can be reversed by lithium [published online January 7, 2019]. Nat Biomed Eng. doi: 10.1038/s41551-018-0334-7