Posted: November 30, 2023

Immune cells may hold clues to vitamin D absorption

Vitamin D plays an integral role in regulating immune function, and College of Agricultural Sciences research has identified immune cells in mice that can be differentiated by whether or not they have vitamin D receptors.

The findings, published in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, could lead to a better understanding of the link between vitamin D status and autoimmune diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis, according to Margherita Cantorna, distinguished professor of molecular immunology and first author on the paper.

In the study, the researchers used flow cytometry to perform highly sensitive assays, or analyses, to determine the composition of cells. These assays categorized particular immune cells based on whether or not they expressed the vitamin D receptor.

The researchers found that some immune cells were insensitive to vitamin D — they did not have vitamin D receptors — while other immune cell populations were almost all sensitive to vitamin D. Most immune cell populations fell somewhere in the middle.

"This suggests that vitamin D is regulating immune response by targeting some cells but not others," said Cantorna, who added that the finding could offer insights for future treatments for people with a vitamin D deficiency. "The presence of fewer immune cells that express the vitamin D receptor suggests an inability or reduced ability to respond to vitamin D supplements."

—Krista Weidner