Vitamin D actions in neurons require the PI3K pathway for both enhancing insulin signaling and rapid depolarizing effects

J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2020 Jun:200:105690. doi: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2020.105690. Epub 2020 May 11.


Despite correlations between low vitamin D levels and diabetes incidence/severity, supplementation with vitamin D has not been widely effective in improving glucose parameters. This may be due to a lack of knowledge regarding how low vitamin D levels physiologically affect glucose homeostasis. We have previously shown that the brain may be a critical area for vitamin d-mediated action on peripheral glucose levels. However, the mechanisms for how vitamin D acts in the brain are unknown. We utilized a multimodal approach to determine the mechanisms by which vitamin D may act in the brain. We first performed an unbiased search (RNA-sequencing) for pathways affected by vitamin D. Vitamin D (125-dihydroxyvitamin D3; 1,25D3) delivered directly into the third ventricle of obese animals differentially regulated multiple pathways, including the insulin signaling pathway. The insulin signaling pathway includes PI3K, which is important in the brain for glucose regulation. Since others have shown that vitamin D acts through the PI3K pathway in non-neuronal cells (muscle and bone), we hypothesized that vitamin D may act in neurons through a PI3K-dependent pathway. In a hypothalamic cell-culture model (GT1-7 cells), we demonstrate that 1,25D3 increased phosphorylation of Akt in the presence of insulin. However, this was blocked with pre-treatment of wortmannin, a PI3K inhibitor. 1,25D3 increased gene transcription of several genes within the PI3K pathway, including Irs2 and p85, without affecting expression of InsR or Akt. Since we had previously shown that 1,25D3 has significant effects on neuronal function, we also tested if the PI3K pathway could mediate rapid actions of vitamin D. We found that 1,25D3 increased the firing frequency of neurons through a PI3K-dependent mechanism. Collectively, these data support that vitamin D enhances insulin signaling and neuronal excitability through PI3K dependent processes which involve both transcriptional and membrane-initiated signaling events.

Keywords: Brain; Glucose homeostasis; Vitamin D receptor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcitriol / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line
  • Hypothalamus / cytology
  • Insulin / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Obesity
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Vitamins / pharmacology*


  • Insulin
  • Vitamins
  • Calcitriol