During MS (“EAE” in mice), a damaging protein called interleukin-17 (IL-17) is produced by immune cells in the brain. The investigators, a collaborative team of scientists from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Stanford University, find that after vitamin D binds to its receptor, the receptor parks itself on the gene that encodes IL-17. By doing so, the receptor occupies a site normally reserved for a protein called NFAT, which is required to turn the gene on. The gene stays off and IL-17 levels plummet.
At the same time, the vitamin D receptor turns on another gene, whose product generates suppressive T cells that combat the destructive action of their IL-17-producing counterparts.
According to the researchers, the mechanism they identify suggests what might be a new path toward pharmaceutical treatment of MS, as well as therapies for other autoimmune diseases that might include rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, eczema and psoriasis.
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The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 6,000 students attending the state’s three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health on five campuses. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, which provides a continuum of healthcare services with multiple locations throughout the state.