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Vitamin D and Bone Health: New Study Reveals Activation Pathways

The Journal of Biological Chemistry has published research that has identified the genes responsible for regulating the kidney's ability to activate vitamin D.

This research may lead to more advanced treatment of diseases in which vitamin D plays a role. Such diseases include immune system disorders and bone degeneration.


A critical element for building strong and healthy bones, Vitamin D is obtained either from the diet or from exposing the skin to sunlight. The form of vitamin D found in foods or produced by the skin in the sun is the inactive form and normally must be converted by the kidneys to calcitriol, the active form. This process is induced by the hormones in the body.

However, other parts of the body such as the skin cells and immune cells can also produce calcitriol. When calcitriol is produced outside of the kidneys it is for the purpose of regulating minerals in the body. Production of this calcitriol is actually catalyzed by inflammation instead of hormones.

Separating the Pathways

Until recently, research into vitamin D has been stalled by the inability of researchers to separate the between these two pathways of vitamin d production.

Many biomedical researchers have a keen interest in non-kidney calcitriol production. This is because it is theorized to have a connection to a number of inflammatory diseases including arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Genetically Engineered Mice

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin recently utilized a technology called CRISPR/Cas engineering to breakthrough this limitation. Their lab has engineered mice with kidney-specific control of vitamin D activation.

"Through the creation of these mice, we can turn off endocrine regulation of [calcitriol] production exclusively in the kidney," according to Mark Meyer, lead research associate. "By doing so, we can focus further on the inflammatory regulation of [calcitriol]."

Importance for Bone Health

Although the end goal is to comprehend the role of calcitriol in inflammatory diseases, the research has found to be applicable to understanding the mechanisms behind bone disorders.

Some clinicians are already using this information to examine patients for mutations similar to those in the mice.

Personalized Treatment

"That [information] might be able to tell that particular clinician about which treatment course might be most appropriate for that individual," said Meyer.

Often, patients with skeletal disorders are recommended supplementation with vitamin D and calcium. However, if patients have this gene mutation involved in vitamin D regulation then these supplements may actually do more harm than good.

We are entering a new era of truly personalized medicine.


Story Source:

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. "Untangling vitamin D activation pathways in inflammation and bone health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171016190302.htm>


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