Epidemiological studies have shown that a poor vitamin D status is associated with an increased risk of several diseases, including autoimmune diseases. The immune regulatory function of vitamin D is thought to have an important role in these associations. Cells of the adaptive immune system have shown to be direct targets of the vitamin D metabolites. Besides being direct targets, cells of the adaptive immune system express the enzymes involved in the metabolism of vitamin D, enabling them to locally convert 25(OH)D into its active metabolite 1,25(OH)2D. In this review, the effects of vitamin D on cells of the adaptive immune system are described. Experimental data in vitro show that vitamin D skews cells of the adaptive immune system toward a more tolerogenic status which might be exploited in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. However, it should be noticed that in vivo effects may differ from in vitro effects due to the cross-talk between different vitamin D sensitive cells, but data support the view that vitamin D is positively involved in maintaining or restoring immune homeostasis. Upcoming vitamin D supplementation trials will further elucidate the in vivo effects of vitamin D on the immune system and its potency to serve as an immune regulating agent in autoimmune diseases.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.