Does vitamin D control the movement of immune cells?

Image shows a close up of an immune cell

Dr Anne Astier

University of Edinburgh


About the project

Dr Astier is investigating how immune cells move into the brain and spinal cord, and whether vitamin D is involved in controlling that movement.

In MS, immune cells move across the blood-brain-barrier into the brain and spinal cord and attack the protective myelin coating that surrounds nerve fibres. We don’t fully understand how or why that migration happens.

Dr Astier wants to find out if a type of immune cell – called T cells –migrates because it has been activated by a molecule called CD46. She also wants to find out whether vitamin D plays any role in controlling that migration.

The team will be looking at T cells that have been activated by CD46, and searching for molecules on the surface that are known to control migration into the brain and spinal cord. This will provide them with evidence about whether CD46 activates T cell migration.

They’ll then take T cells from blood donated by people with and without MS, and compare the ability of the cells to move across a model blood-brain-barrier made in the lab, to look for differences. They’ll also be looking at whether adding vitamin D to the cell environment has any influence on the migration.

How will it help people with MS?

Several disease modifying drugs can reduce the movement of immune cells into the brain and spinal cord, but they can come with the risk of side effects. This work will help us to understand more about how and why immune cells migrate, so that more effective treatments targeting this mechanism can be developed. This work could also provide further information on how vitamin D is involved in MS. Finding out whether vitamin D can regulate the migration of T cells could highlight whether vitamin D could be used to help treat MS.

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MS researcher at work in lab, using a pipette