Lithium treatment lengthens the period of circadian rhythms in most organisms. In the present study, we tested whether lithium acts directly on the mammalian suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) to lengthen rhythms of individual neurons. Lithium increased the circadian period of firing rate rhythms of cultured SCN neurons in a concentration-dependent manner. Lithium had no effect on the amplitude of these rhythms, but did affect the period of some cells more than others. The results indicate that lithium acts directly on the SCN to lengthen the free-running period of individual neurons. (C) 2000 Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.