Vitamin D increases glucocorticoid efficacy via inhibition of mTORC1 in experimental models of multiple sclerosis

Acta Neuropathol. 2019 Sep;138(3):443-456. doi: 10.1007/s00401-019-02018-8. Epub 2019 Apr 27.


The limited efficacy of glucocorticoids (GCs) during therapy of acute relapses in multiple sclerosis (MS) leads to long-term disability. We investigated the potential of vitamin D (VD) to enhance GC efficacy and the mechanisms underlying this VD/GC interaction. In vitro, GC receptor (GR) expression levels were quantified by ELISA and induction of T cell apoptosis served as a functional readout to assess synergistic 1,25(OH)2D3 (1,25D)/GC effects. Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (MOG35-55 EAE) was induced in mice with T cell-specific GR or mTORc1 deficiency. 25(OH)D (25D) levels were determined in two independent cohorts of MS patients with stable disease or relapses either responsive or resistant to GC treatment (initial cohort: n = 110; validation cohort: n = 85). Gene expression of human CD8+ T cells was analyzed by microarray (n = 112) and correlated with 25D serum levels. In vitro, 1,25D upregulated GR protein levels, leading to increased GC-induced T cell apoptosis. 1,25D/GC combination therapy ameliorated clinical EAE course more efficiently than respective monotherapies, which was dependent on GR expression in T cells. In MS patients from two independent cohorts, 25D deficiency was associated with GC-resistant relapses. Mechanistic studies revealed that synergistic 1,25D/GC effects on apoptosis induction were mediated by the mTOR but not JNK pathway. In line, 1,25D inhibited mTORc1 activity in murine T cells, and low 25D levels in humans were associated with a reduced expression of mTORc1 inhibiting tuberous sclerosis complex 1 in CD8+ T cells. GR upregulation by 1,25D and 1,25D/GC synergism in vitro and therapeutic efficacy in vivo were abolished in animals with a T cell-specific mTORc1 deficiency. Specific inhibition of mTORc1 by everolimus increased the efficacy of GC in EAE. 1,25D augments GC-mediated effects in vitro and in vivo in a T cell-specific, GR-dependent manner via mTORc1 inhibition. These data may have implications for improvement of anti-inflammatory GC therapy.

Keywords: Calcitriol; Mammalian target of rapamycin; Relapse treatment; Steroid resistance; c-Jun N-terminal kinase.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Calcitriol / pharmacology*
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / immunology
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / metabolism*
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1 / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / drug effects
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin Complex 1
  • Calcitriol