How do changes in vitamin D
affect the immune system
It is well
recognised that variations in genes within the vitamin D pathway have been
implicated in MS risk, and many people with MS have been shown to have vitamin
D deficiency. However, the mechanisms by which vitamin D may affect the immune
system are not clear.
Heinrich Körner and Professor Bruce Taylor at the Menzies Institute for Medical
Research were awarded a one-year incubator grant in 2015, supported by the
Trish MS Research Foundation, to investigate whether known MS risk genes
involved in the Vitamin D pathway may be able to influence the function of T
cells in the immune system.
Körner’s project looked at the effects of variations in the genetic code of MS
risk genes in the vitamin D pathway, and how these changes might alter the
function of T cells, the immune cells thought to play a major role in the
inflammation that is characteristic of MS.
Körner and his team collected blood samples from people with MS and extracted
immune cells for further study. By activating T-cells in the laboratory in the
presence or absence of vitamin D, the researchers were looking for differences
in the way the T-cells from people with the risk gene responded, when compared
to T-cells from people without the risk gene. The team has been able to see
distinct differences in the way the T-cells from people with the genetic
variation respond when compared with T-cells from people with the ‘healthy’
version of the gene.
these findings delve deeper into what is happening the team are now collecting
more blood samples and will separate the T-cells into their different subtypes
to test exactly which type of T-cell is responding to vitamin D and in which
sub-types of immune cells the genetic variations have the most influence on
results will shed vital light on exactly how and why the immune system
malfunctions in MS, providing clear direction on how we might restore healthy
immune function and stop the disease.
The team have
secured a further small grant from MS Research Australia in 2016 to continue
this work and are putting the pilot data together to support a major
application to the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2017.