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Vitamin D May Play Key Role
In Immune System Activation

Insufficient levels of vitamin D may reduce our
immune system’s ability to react to infection,
reports new
research from Denmark.

Vitamin D is necessary to trigger T cells - the immune system’s killer
cells - into action, and insufficient levels of the vitamin mean the cells
remain dormant and inactive, according to findings published in
Nature Immunology.
“Scientists have known for a long time that Vitamin D is important
for calcium absorption and the vitamin has also been associated
in helping prevent diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis,
but what we didn’t realize is how crucial vitamin D is for actually
activating the immune system - which we know now,” said scientists
from the University of Copenhagen.
The study adds to an ever growing body of science supporting the
benefits of maintaining healthy vitamin D levels.
In adults, it is said vitamin D deficiency may precipitate or
exacerbate osteopenia, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures,
common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and
cardiovascular diseases. There is also some evidence that the
vitamin may reduce the incidence of several types of cancer and
type-1 diabetes.
According to the Copenhagen-based researchers, activated T cells
can become one of two types of immune cell: Killer cells that attack
and destroy all cells carrying traces of a foreign pathogen; or helper
cells that assist the immune system in acquiring “memory”. If the cell
is not activated it is known as a naïve cell.
For their research, the scientists examined the expression of a
specific molecule (PLC-gamma1) that would enable the cell to
deliver an antigen specific response. They found that naïve T cells
had very low expression of PLC-gamma1 and that triggering of the
T cell led to a 75-fold increase in PLC-gamma1 expression. Their
data also showed that induction of PLC-gamma1 was dependent
on vitamin D.
“When a T cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it extends a
signaling device or ‘antenna’ known as a vitamin D receptor, with
which it searches for vitamin D,” explained the researchers . “This
means that the T cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell
will cease. If the T cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood,
they won’t even begin to mobilize.”
The findings could help combat infectious diseases and global
epidemics; Last year the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)
confirmed that it will be investigating the role of vitamin D in
protection against swine flu.
Source: Nature Immunology
Published online “Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor
signaling and activation of human T cells