Vitamin D status is a risk factor for autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis.

The primary research interest of the group is to understand the targets of vitamin D in the immune system. The environment is important in the development of immune mediated diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD- ulcerative colitis and Crohn's) and multiple sclerosis (MS). We hypothesize that vitamin D availability from either sunshine exposure or diet is an environmental factor that affects the development of the immune function and as a consequence the development of diseases like IBD. Experimental IBD and MS (in mice) develops more quickly in animals that are vitamin D deficient from birth. In addition vitamin D receptor knockout mice develop a fulminating form of experimental IBD. 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 immune response. In particular, two populations of regulatory cells are missing in vitamin D deficient or vitamin D receptor knockout mice. The data point to a requirement for vitamin D in the development of these two regulatory subsets. The implications are that improved vitamin D status early in life might affect the development of the immune response and affect immune mediated diseases like IBD and MS.

Nutritional Control of Immune Function.

Expanding interests of the group include investigation into other nutritional controls of immune function (vitamin A, edible mushrooms, and selenium) and understanding nutritional control of the gastrointestinal microbiota and infection in the gut.

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Margherita T Cantorna, Ph.D.
  • Distinguished Professor of Molecular Immunology