Vitamin D and the brain: Genomic and non-genomic actions

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2017 Sep 15;453:131-143. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2017.05.035. Epub 2017 Jun 1.


1,25(OH)2D3 (vitamin D) is well-recognized as a neurosteroid that modulates multiple brain functions. A growing body of evidence indicates that vitamin D plays a pivotal role in brain development, neurotransmission, neuroprotection and immunomodulation. However, the precise molecular mechanisms by which vitamin D exerts these functions in the brain are still unclear. Vitamin D signalling occurs via the vitamin D receptor (VDR), a zinc-finger protein in the nuclear receptor superfamily. Like other nuclear steroids, vitamin D has both genomic and non-genomic actions. The transcriptional activity of vitamin D occurs via the nuclear VDR. Its faster, non-genomic actions can occur when the VDR is distributed outside the nucleus. The VDR is present in the developing and adult brain where it mediates the effects of vitamin D on brain development and function. The purpose of this review is to summarise the in vitro and in vivo work that has been conducted to characterise the genomic and non-genomic actions of vitamin D in the brain. Additionally we link these processes to functional neurochemical and behavioural outcomes. Elucidation of the precise molecular mechanisms underpinning vitamin D signalling in the brain may prove useful in understanding the role this steroid plays in brain ontogeny and function.

Keywords: Brain; Genomic and non-genomic action; VDR; Vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neurogenesis* / drug effects
  • Neurogenesis* / genetics
  • Neuroprotection
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / genetics
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage
  • Vitamin D / metabolism*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / prevention & control


  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • VDR protein, human
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium