Could vitamin D help repair myelin?

Published date: 07 Dec 2015 at 12:38PM

Scientists working at the University of Cambridge have discovered a protein activated by vitamin D could be involved in the myelin repair process.

The study, published today in The Journal of Cell Biology, offers significant evidence vitamin D could be a possible treatment for MS in the future.

A new pathway to explore

In MS, the immune system attacks the myelin that surrounds nerves, causing damage. Finding ways to repair myelin is a key strategy for the research community in finding effective treatments for people with MS.

In this study, researchers from the MS Society’s Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair identified the vitamin D receptor protein pairs with an existing protein already known to be involved in myelin repair - the RXR gamma receptor

In the laboratory, by adding vitamin D to brain stem cells where these proteins were present, researchers found the production rate of oligodendrocytes (myelin making cells) increased by 80%. When they then blocked the vitamin D receptor to stop it from working, the RXR gamma protein alone was unable to stimulate the production of oligodendrocytes.

A target for the future

Professor Robin Franklin from the MS Society’s Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair led the study:

“For years scientists have been searching for a way to repair damage to myelin. So far, the majority of research on vitamin D has looked at its role in the cause of the disease. This work provides significant evidence that vitamin D is also involved in the regeneration of myelin once the disease has started. In the future we could see a myelin repair drug that works by targeting the vitamin D receptor.”

Next steps

Scientists will now need to carry out further research to understand more about the underlying biology of this receptor before considering how the vitamin D receptor could be safely and effectively targeted in future trials in people with MS.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Head of Biomedical Research at the MS Society, said:

“This study opens the door to an exciting new avenue for myelin repair research and provides the most robust evidence to date showing that vitamin D could play an important role.

“For now though, this is early stage research that’s been done in the laboratory and more work is needed before we know whether it would hold true in people with MS. It’s not a good idea, however, to be deficient in vitamin D and we’d encourage anybody who thinks they might be to speak to their GP.”

Further information

Vitamin D

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Page last updated: 07 Dec 2015

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