Regulation of Reduced Folate Carrier (RFC) by Vitamin D Receptor at the Blood-Brain Barrier

Mol Pharm. 2017 Nov 6;14(11):3848-3858. doi: 10.1021/acs.molpharmaceut.7b00572. Epub 2017 Sep 26.


Folates are essential for brain development and function. Folate transport in mammalian tissues is mediated by three major folate transport systems, i.e., reduced folate carrier (RFC), proton-coupled folate transporter (PCFT), and folate receptor alpha (FRα), known to be regulated by ligand-activated nuclear receptors, such as vitamin D receptor (VDR). Folate uptake at the choroid plexus, which requires the actions of both FRα and PCFT, is critical to cerebral folate delivery. Inactivating FRα or PCFT mutations cause severe cerebral folate deficiency resulting in early childhood neurodegeneration. The objective of this study was to investigate the role of RFC in folate uptake at the level of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and its potential regulation by VDR. We detected robust expression of RFC in different in vitro BBB model systems, particularly in immortalized cultures of human cerebral microvascular endothelial cells (hCMEC/D3) and isolated mouse brain capillaries. [3H]-methotrexate uptake by hCMEC/D3 cells at pH 7.4 was inhibited by PT523 and pemetrexed, antifolates with high affinity for RFC. We also showed that activation of VDR through calcitriol (1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3) exposure up-regulates RFC mRNA and protein expression as well as function in hCMEC/D3 cells and isolated mouse brain capillaries. We further demonstrated that RFC expression could be down-regulated by VDR-targeting siRNA, further confirming the role of VDR in the direct regulation of this folate transporter. Together, these data suggest that augmenting RFC functional expression could constitute a novel strategy for enhancing brain folate delivery for the treatment of neurometabolic disorders caused by loss of FRα or PCFT function.

Keywords: blood-brain barrier; brain folate transport; reduced folate carrier; vitamin D receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Calcitriol / pharmacology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Folic Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methotrexate / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / genetics
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism*
  • Reduced Folate Carrier Protein / genetics
  • Reduced Folate Carrier Protein / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Reduced Folate Carrier Protein
  • Folic Acid
  • Calcitriol
  • Methotrexate