Myelin damage in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) could be repaired by a protein that is activated by vitamin D intake. The new research – which was conducted at the University of Cambridge in the UK – suggests that vitamin D may be a potential future treatment for the disease.
A vitamin D receptor protein has been discovered to bind to another protein – known as the RXR gamma receptor – whose function is to repair the myelin sheath that acts to protect nerve fibers. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Cell Biology.
The researchers from the MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair, found that adding vitamin D to brain cells containing both the vitamin D receptor and the RXR gamma receptor, caused an 80 percent increase in the production of oligodendrocytes – the cells responsible for making myelin. Interestingly, the researchers found that when the RXR gamma protein was present in the cells, but the vitamin D receptor was blocked, the production of oligodendrocytes was not stimulated.
MS is an autoimmune disorder in which the patient’s immune system attacks and destroys the protective myelin surrounding nerve cells, effectively interrupting messages sent through the brain and along the spinal cord. Symptoms of MS can vary but some patients experience pain, pronounced fatigue, and issues with balance and mobility. While the body is able to repair myelin through a number of processes, these mechanisms become less reliable as a person ages.
“For years, scientists have been searching for a way to repair damage to myelin,” said leader of the study Professor Robin Franklin, of the MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair, and the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Stem Cell Institute. “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.”
“More than 100,000 people in the UK have multiple sclerosis and finding treatments that can slow, stop or reverse the worsening of disability is a priority for the MS Society,” said Dr. Susan Kohlhaas, Head of Biomedical Research at the MS Society. “We’d now like to see more studies to understand whether taking vitamin D supplements could, in time, be an effective and safe treatment for people with MS.
“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,” she said. “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.”
The researchers say that more basic research needs to be done in order to fully understand the mechanism behind the vitamin D receptor and how it induces an increase in production of oligodendrocytes. Once the scientists have a better understanding, the effects of vitamin D could be tested on MS patients in a clinical trial.
- Vitamin D could repair nerve damage in multiple sclerosis, study suggests – http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/vitamin-d-could-repair-nerve-damage-in-multiple-sclerosis-study-suggests
- Guzman de la Fuente, A., Errea, O., van Wijngaarden, P., Gonzalez, G., Kerninon, C., Jarjour, A., Lewis, H., Jones, C., Nait-Oumesmar, B., Zhao, C., et al. (2015). Vitamin D receptor–retinoid X receptor heterodimer signaling regulates oligodendrocyte progenitor cell differentiation. J Cell Biol, 211 (5) 975-985.