Professor Heinrich Körner and Professor Bruce Taylor at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research will investigate whether known MS risk genes involved in the Vitamin D pathway may be able to influence the function of T cells in the immune system.
It is well recognised that the risk of developing MS is determined by a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors. Genes within the vitamin D pathway have been implicated in MS risk, and many people with MS have been shown to have vitamin D deficiency. However, the mechanisms by which vitamin D may affect the immune system are not clear.
Professor Körner’s project will look at the effects of variations in the genetic code of MS risk genes in the vitamin D pathway, and how these changes might alter the function of T lymphocytes, the immune cells thought to play a major role in the inflammation that is characteristic of MS. The researchers hope to identify key mechanisms that could help to explain the important role that Vitamin D plays in modulating immune system function to cause MS.
In 2015, Professor Körner and his team collected blood samples from people with MS for this project and established the cell culture platform consisting of immune cells that have been grown in a laboratory, which were used to study the mechanisms by which vitamin D may affect the immune system.
By activating T-cells in the laboratory in the presence or absence of vitamin D, the researchers were looking for differences in the way the T-cells from people with the risk gene responded, when compared to T-cells from people without the risk gene. They found that the presence of Vitamin D seemed to influence the activity of subgroups of T immune cells, and also changed the activity of immune chemicals called cytokines.
Following on from this project, Professor Korner is continuing to collect more samples and will be expanding on these analyses to continue to explore subgroups of T immune cells to determine the effects of Vitamin D presence or absence on cell activity, and to fully tease out the effects of the risk gene on this relationship.
Updated: 16 March 2016
Updated: 03 January, 2014