Vitamin D in systemic and organ-specific autoimmune diseases

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2013 Oct;45(2):256-66. doi: 10.1007/s12016-012-8342-y.


Lately, vitamin D has been linked with metabolic and immunological processes, which established its role as an essential component of human health preservation. Vitamin D has been defined as natural immune modulators, and upon activation of its receptors (VDRs), it regulates calcium metabolism, cellular growth, proliferation and apoptosis, and other immunological functions. Epidemiological data underline a strong correlation between poor vitamin D status and higher risk for chronic inflammatory illnesses of various etiologies, including autoimmune diseases. Epidemiological, genetic, and basic studies indicated a potential role of vitamin D in the pathogenesis of certain systemic and organ-specific autoimmune diseases. These studies demonstrate correlation between low vitamin D and prevalence of diseases. In addition, VDRs' polymorphisms observed in some of these autoimmune diseases may further support a plausible pathogenic link. Notably, for some autoimmune disease, no correlation with vitamin D levels could be confirmed. Thus, in the current review we present the body of evidence regarding the plausible roles of vitamin D and VDR's polymorphism in the pathogenesis of autoimmunity. We summarize the data regarding systemic (i.e., systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) and organ-specific (i.e., multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, primary biliary cirrhosis, etc.) autoimmune diseases, in which low level of vitamin D was found comparing to healthy subjects. In addition, we discuss the correlations between vitamin D levels and clinical manifestations and/or activity of diseases. In this context, we address the rational for vitamin D supplementation in patients suffering from autoimmune diseases. Further studies addressing the mechanisms by which vitamin D affects autoimmunity and the proper supplementation required are needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Autoimmune Diseases / diet therapy
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Growth Processes
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Disease Progression
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation
  • Organ Specificity
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / genetics
  • Vitamin D / metabolism*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / epidemiology*


  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium