A protein activated by vitamin D could be involved in repairing damage to myelin in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to new research from the University of Cambridge. The study, published in the Journal of Cell Biology, offers significant evidence that vitamin D could be a possible treatment for MS in the future.
This work provides significant evidence that vitamin D is involved in the regeneration of myelin once the disease has started.
– Robin Franklin
Researchers from the MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair, identified that the ‘vitamin D receptor’ protein pairs with an existing protein, called the RXR gamma receptor, already known to be involved in the repair of myelin, the protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres.
By adding vitamin D to brain stem cells where the proteins were present, they found the production rate of oligodendrocytes (myelin making cells) increased by 80%. When they blocked the vitamin D receptor to stop it from working, the RXR gamma protein alone was unable to stimulate the production of oligodendrocytes.
In MS, the body’s own immune system attacks and damages myelin, causing disruption to messages sent around the brain and spinal cord; symptoms are unpredictable and include problems with mobility and balance, pain, and severe fatigue. The body has a natural ability to repair myelin, but with age this becomes less effective.
Professor Robin Franklin from the MS Society Cambridge Centre for Myelin Repair and the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Stem Cell Institute, who led the study, says: “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.”