How is vitamin D involved in MS?

Professor Heinrich Korner

Menzies Institute for Medical Research, TAS

| Causes and Prevention | Immunology | Incubator | 2016 | Investigator Led Research |


Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with an increased risk of developing MS. A number of MS risk genes are associated with vitamin D, however, the mechanisms through which vitamin D increases one’s risk of developing MS are not clear.

In this incubator grant, Professor Heinrich Körner and his team will continue their work investigating whether known MS risk genes involved in the vitamin D pathway are able to influence the function of specific immune cells, called T cells.

This project will study variations in the genetic code of MS risk genes in the vitamin D pathway. Professor Körner’s team aims to determine if any alterations alters the function of the T cells. During this project blood samples will be collected from people with and without MS, and genetic information will be extracted from the immune cells.

Professor Körner will then use specialised techniques to manipulate the vitamin D pathway, to identify the consequences of an altered vitamin D pathway on immune cell function. This study aims to better understand the mechanisms for the relationship between vitamin D and MS.

Project Outcomes

During this incubator grant, Professor Heinrich Körner and his team investigated changes in the genetic code in genes associated with an increased risk of MS. They specifically looked at genes in the vitamin D pathway that were normally active in T cells, and looked at how these genes affected the functioning of the T cells.

The team was able to collect blood from over 60 people with and without MS. They investigated three specific genetic changes, and looked at the overall numbers of the specific immune cells, called T cells and monocytes. The small genetic changes did not appear to have specific effects on what the cells produced, nor on the cell numbers.

However, a small difference was found in the number of specific types of monocytes and T cells in people with and without MS. The group were also able to isolated T cells from the blood and grow them in the laboratory. During this time they mimicked an infection and looked at what they expressed. The T cells from people with MS expressed fewer molecules that affect monocytes, than those from people without MS.

These interesting preliminary results require further investigation, but shed light on the interplay that occurs between different sections of the immune system in MS.

Updated: 17 July 2017

Updated: 03 January, 2016


Grant Awarded

  • Incubator Grant

Total Funding

  • $14,000


  • 1 year over 2016

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How is vitamin D involved in MS?