Developmental vitamin D deficiency alters multiple neurotransmitter systems in the neonatal rat brain

Int J Dev Neurosci. 2017 Nov;62:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2017.07.002. Epub 2017 Jul 14.


Background: Epidemiological evidence suggests that developmental vitamin D (DVD) deficiency is a risk factor for neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia. DVD deficiency in rats is associated with altered brain structure and adult behaviours indicating alterations in dopamine and glutamate signalling. Developmental alterations in dopamine neurotransmission have also been observed in DVD-deficient rats but a comprehensive assessment of brain neurochemistry has not been undertaken. Thus, the current study determined the regional concentrations of dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, glutamine, glutamate and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and associated metabolites, in DVD-deficient neonates.

Methods: Sprague-Dawley rats were fed a vitamin D deficient diet or control diet six weeks prior to mating until birth and housed under UVB-free lighting conditions. Neurotransmitter concentration was assessed by high-performance liquid chromatography on post-mortem neonatal brain tissue.

Results: Ubiquitous reductions in the levels of glutamine (12-24%) were observed in DVD-deficient neonates compared with control neonates. Similarly, in multiple brain regions DVD-deficient neonates had increased levels of noradrenaline and serine compared with control neonates. In contrast, increased levels of dopamine and decreased levels of serotonin in DVD-deficient neonates were limited to striatal subregions compared with controls.

Conclusions: Our results confirm that DVD deficiency leads to changes in multiple neurotransmitter systems in the neonate brain. Importantly, this regionally-based assessment in DVD-deficient neonates identified both widespread neurotransmitter changes (glutamine/noradrenaline) and regionally selective neurotransmitter changes (dopamine/serotonin). Thus, vitamin D may have both general and local actions depending on the neurotransmitter system being investigated. Taken together, these data suggest that DVD deficiency alters neurotransmitter systems relevant to schizophrenia in the developing rat brain.

Keywords: Amino acids; Dopamine; Glutamine; HPLC; Neurochemistry; Schizophrenia; Serine; Serotonin.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Autopsy
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology
  • Developmental Disabilities / pathology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Vitamin D / blood
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / blood
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / complications
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / pathology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Vitamin D