In recent years, vitamin D has been shown to possess a wide range of immunomodulatory effects. Although there is extensive amount of research on vitamin D, we lack a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency or the mechanism by which vitamin D regulates the human immune system. This study examined the prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency and the relationship between vitamin D and the immune system in healthy individuals.
Healthy individuals (n = 774) comprised of European-Americans (EA, n = 470), African–Americans (AA, n = 125), and Native Americans (NA, n = 179) were screened for 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] levels by ELISA. To identify the most noticeable effects of vitamin D on the immune system, 20 EA individuals with severely deficient (<11.3 ng/mL) and sufficient (>24.8 ng/mL) vitamin D levels were matched and selected for further analysis. Serum cytokine level measurement, immune cell phenotyping, and phosphoflow cytometry were performed.
Vitamin D sufficiency was observed in 37.5% of the study cohort. By multivariate analysis, AA, NA, and females with a high body mass index (BMI, >30) demonstrate higher rates of vitamin D deficiency (p<0.05). Individuals with vitamin D deficiency had significantly higher levels of serum GM-CSF (p = 0.04), decreased circulating activated CD4+ (p = 0.04) and CD8+ T (p = 0.04) cell frequencies than individuals with sufficient vitamin D levels.
A large portion of healthy individuals have vitamin D deficiency. These individuals have altered T and B cell responses, indicating that the absence of sufficient vitamin D levels could result in undesirable cellular and molecular alterations ultimately contributing to immune dysregulation.