Researchers reveal molecular and genetic evidence that vitamin D benefits patients with multiple sclerosis who are receiving treatment.
Past research has shown that vitamin D may be important for preventing or treating the progression of MS, although researchers hadn’t previously identified what mechanisms were behind these findings.
Kassandra Munger, ScD, research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues used data from a recent MS treatment study (BENEFIT study) that assessed the safety and efficacy of early MS treatment in 470 patients with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS). CIS is considered the first neurological episode of MS. In the study, patients were randomly assigned to interferon β group (common treatment for MS) every other day (early treatment) or to placebo (delayed treatment) and followed for 2 years.
Results from the benefit study revealed significant improvements in clinical outcomes of patients who received early treatment compared to those who did not.
In the current study, researchers used samples from the past study population to assess vitamin D levels and measure gene expression. They noticed seasonal fluctuation in vitamin D levels that mimicked fluctuations in lesion counts. The researchers found that the highest vitamin D levels were associated with the fewest lesions.
“There is about a 57% reduced risk of new gadolinium lesions with every 50 nmol/liter [20 ng/ml] increase in vitamin D,” reported Dr. Munger.
The researchers found that both interferon β – which is known to reduce lesions – and higher vitamin D levels were significantly protective against the development of new lesions. They also looked at gene expression from the collected blood samples and found that there were 63 genes associated with vitamin D, 770 with interferon, and more than 5000 associated with lesions. There was overlap between the different gene sets, suggesting shared pathways.
Although this research doesn’t prove causation, it does offer important information about vitamin D’s role in multiple sclerosis.