Calcitriol, the active metabolite of vitamin D, has been shown to have significant effects on the brain. These actions include reducing the severity of some central nervous system lesions, possibly by upregulating trophic factors such as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). GDNF has substantial effects on the nigrostriatal dopamine (DA) system of young adult, aged and lesioned animals. Thus, the administration of calcitriol may lead to significant effects on nigrostriatal DA neuron functioning. The present experiments were designed to examine the ability of calcitriol to alter striatal DA release, and striatal and nigral tissue levels of DA. Male Fischer-344 rats were administered vehicle or calcitriol (0.3, 1.0, or 3.0 μg/kg, s.c.) once daily for eight consecutive days. Three weeks later in vivo microdialysis experiments were conducted to measure basal and stimulus evoked overflow of DA from the striatum. Basal levels of extracellular DA were not significantly affected by the calcitriol treatments. However, the 1.0 and 3.0 μg/kg doses of calcitriol led to increases in both potassium and amphetamine evoked overflow of striatal DA. Although post-mortem tissue levels of striatal DA were not altered by the calcitriol injections, nigral tissue levels of DA and its main metabolites were increased by both the 1.0 and 3.0 μg/kg doses of calcitriol. In a separate group of animals GDNF levels were augmented in the striatum and substantia nigra after eight consecutive daily injections of calcitriol. These results suggest that systemically administered calcitriol can upregulate dopaminergic release processes in the striatum and DA levels in the substantia nigra. Increases in the levels of endogenous GDNF following calcitriol treatment may in part be responsible for these changes. The ability of calcitriol to lead to augmented DA release in the striatum suggests that calcitriol may be beneficial in disease processes involving dopaminergic dysfunction.
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