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BACKGROUND: Despite lithium's being the most effective drug for bipolar disorder and in clinical use for decades, we still know very little about its early effects relevant to its mode of action. METHODS/DESIGN: The Oxford Lithium Trial is a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study of 6-week lithium treatment in participants with bipolar disorder and mood instability. Its aim is to identify early clinical, neurocognitive and biological effects. Participants (n = 40) will undergo an intensive battery of multi-modal investigations, including remote monitoring of mood, activity and physiology, as well as cognitive testing, fMRI and magnetoencephalography, together with biochemical and gene expression measurements to assess renal, inflammatory and circadian effects. DISCUSSION: The findings derived from this trial may be of value in predicting subsequent therapeutic response or side effects, not only relevant to the use of lithium but also providing a potential signature to help in more rapid evaluation of novel mood stabilisers. In this respect, OxLith is a step towards the development of a valid experimental medicine model for bipolar disorder. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ISRCTN91624955 . Registered on 22 January 2015.

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Adult, Affect, Antimanic Agents, Biomarkers, Bipolar Disorder, Brain, Clinical Protocols, Cognition, Double-Blind Method, England, Female, Gene Expression Regulation, Humans, Lithium Carbonate, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Magnetoencephalography, Male, Neuropsychological Tests, Prospective Studies, Psychiatric Status Rating Scales, Research Design, Time Factors, Treatment Outcome, Young Adult