Developmental vitamin D deficiency causes abnormal brain development

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Dec:34 Suppl 1:S247-57. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.04.015.


There is now clear evidence that vitamin D is involved in brain development. Our group is interested in environmental factors that shape brain development and how this may be relevant to neuropsychiatric diseases including schizophrenia. The origins of schizophrenia are considered developmental. We hypothesised that developmental vitamin D (DVD) deficiency may be the plausible neurobiological explanation for several important epidemiological correlates of schizophrenia namely: (1) the excess winter/spring birth rate, (2) increased incidence of the disease in 2nd generation Afro-Caribbean migrants and (3) increased urban birth rate. Moreover we have published two pieces of direct epidemiological support for this hypothesis in patients. In order to establish the "Biological Plausibility" of this hypothesis we have developed an animal model to study the effect of DVD deficiency on brain development. We do this by removing vitamin D from the diet of female rats prior to breeding. At birth we return all dams to a vitamin D containing diet. Using this procedure we impose a transient, gestational vitamin D deficiency, while maintaining normal calcium levels throughout. The brains of offspring from DVD-deficient dams are characterised by (1) a mild distortion in brain shape, (2) increased lateral ventricle volumes, (3) reduced differentiation and (4) diminished expression of neurotrophic factors. As adults, the alterations in ventricular volume persist and alterations in brain gene and protein expression emerge. Adult DVD-deficient rats also display behavioural sensitivity to agents that induce psychosis (the NMDA antagonist MK-801) and have impairments in attentional processing. In this review we summarise the literature addressing the function of vitamin D on neuronal and non-neuronal cells as well as in vivo results from DVD-deficient animals. Our conclusions from these data are that vitamin D is a plausible biological risk factor for neuropsychiatric disorders and that vitamin D acts as a neurosteroid with direct effects on brain development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / etiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenia / etiology
  • Vitamin D / physiology
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / psychology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Vitamin D