Vitamin D and estrogen synergy in Vdr-expressing CD4+ T cells is essential to induce Helios+FoxP3+ T cells and prevent autoimmune demyelinating disease

Justin A. Spanier, Faye E. Nashold, Christopher G. Mayne, Corwin D. Nelson, Colleen E. Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease resulting from an autoimmune attack on the axon-myelin unit. A female MS bias becomes evident after puberty and female incidence has tripled in the last half-century, implicating a female sex hormone interacting with a modifiable environmental factor. These aspects of MS suggest that many female MS cases may be preventable. Mechanistic knowledge of this hormone-environment interaction is needed to devise strategies to reduce female MS risk. We previously demonstrated that vitamin D3 (D3) deficiency increases and D3 supplementation decreases experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) risk in a female-biased manner. We also showed that D3 acts in an estrogen (E2)-dependent manner, since ovariectomy eliminated and E2 restored D3-mediated EAE protection. Here we probed the hypothesis that E2 and D3 interact synergistically within CD4+ T cells to control T cell fate and prevent demyelinating disease. The E2 increased EAE resistance in wild-type (WT) but not T-Vdr0 mice lacking Vdr gene function in CD4+ T cells, so E2 action depended entirely on Vdr+CD4+ T cells. The E2 levels were higher in WT than T-Vdr0 mice, suggesting the Vdr+CD4+ T cells produced E2 or stimulated its production. The E2 decreased Cyp24a1 and increased Vdr transcripts in T cells, prolonging the calcitriol half-life and increasing calcitriol responsiveness. The E2 also increased CD4+Helios+FoxP3+ T regulatory (Treg) cells in a Vdr-dependent manner. Thus, CD4+ T cells have a cooperative amplification loop involving E2 and calcitriol that promotes CD4+Helios+FoxP3+ Treg cell development and is disrupted when the D3 pathway is impaired. The global decline in population D3 status may be undermining a similar cooperative E2-D3 interaction controlling Treg cell differentiation in women, causing a breakdown in T cell self tolerance and a rise in MS incidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-58
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroimmunology
StatePublished - Sep 15 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank J.R. Moore, C.E. Praska, and L.E. Barta for technical assistance, and Dr. S.L. Hubler for statistical consulting and conceptualizing the model. We are especially grateful to T. Wolfe and P. Powers for establishing the “Multiple Sclerosis Research Fund in Biochemistry” at the U. of Wisconsin Foundation. This research was supported by a research grant from the U. of Wisconsin Graduate School Research Committee , a HATCH McIntyre Stennis Award ( MSN119798 , PRJ18KV ), and a National Multiple Sclerosis Society award ( RG4076A5/1 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier B.V.


  • Estrogen
  • Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
  • HeliosFoxP3 T cells
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Prevention
  • Vitamin D


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