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American Society for Nutrition Awards Dr. Cantorna for research on Vitamin D

Posted: March 7, 2012

The 2012 Osborne and Mendel Award for recent basic research accomplishments in nutrition, from American Society for Nutrition, in Bethesda, MD
Dr. Margherita Cantorna

Dr. Margherita Cantorna

     The environment is important in the development of immune mediated diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD- ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s), asthma and multiple sclerosis (MS). The work in the Cantorna lab has established that vitamin D availability from either sunshine exposure or diet is an environmental factor that affects the development of the immune system and as a consequence the development of diseases like IBD and MS.  Experimental autoimmunity (in mice) develops more quickly in animals that are vitamin D deficient from birth. Conversely, experimental asthma fails to develop in the vitamin D receptor deficient host.  The data suggests that a lack of vitamin D and or the inability to signal through the vitamin D receptor results in the aberrant development of the T cell response. In particular, two populations of T cells the NKT cells and CD8aa intraepithelial cells are missing in vitamin D deficient or vitamin D receptor knockout mice. New data suggests a relationship between NKT cell number and the vitamin D status of the mother and newborn. The data point to a requirement for vitamin D in the development of these two T cells. Paradoxically infections that require the same T cell responses for protection are less affected by changes in vitamin D.  Our findings suggest that improved vitamin D status early in life might affect the development of the immune response and affect immune mediated diseases while having lesser effects on the development of anti-infectious immunity.