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Open Access Open Badges Research

Predominance of Th2 polarization by Vitamin D through a STAT6-dependent mechanism

Scott Sloka, Claudia Silva, Jianxiong Wang and V Wee Yong*

Author Affiliations

Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Department of Clinical Neurosciences University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Journal of Neuroinflammation 2011, 8:56  doi:10.1186/1742-2094-8-56

Published: 24 May 2011



Vitamin D has several reported immunomodulatory properties including the reduced generation of pro-inflammatory CD4+ T helper 1 (Th1) cells and the increase in levels of the anti-inflammatory Th2 subset. Less clear has been the impact of vitamin D on the pro-inflammatory Th17 subset, and whether and how vitamin D may preferentially drive the polarization of one of the T helper subsets.


Using human peripheral blood-derived mononuclear cells and mouse splenocytes and lymph node cells in culture, we examined whether and how vitamin D preferentially skews T cells towards the Th1, Th2 or Th17 subsets. Mice afflicted with the multiple sclerosis-like condition, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), were examined in vivo for the relevance of the tissue culture-derived results.


We report that the biologically active form of vitamin D, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 {1,25(OH)2D3}, consistently generates human and murine Th2 cells in culture, frequently leaving unchanged the levels of Th1/Th17 cytokines. As a result, the ratio of Th2 to Th1 and Th17 is increased by 1,25(OH)2D3. The upregulation of Th2 to Th1 or Th17 subsets by 1,25(OH)2D3 is enabled by an increase of the GATA-3 transcription factor, which itself is promoted upstream by an elevation of the STAT6 transcription factor. In mice, the alleviation of EAE severity by 1,25(OH)2D3 is accompanied by elevation of levels of GATA-3 and STAT6. Significantly, the efficacy of 1,25(OH)2D3 in ameliorating EAE is completely lost in mice genetically deficient for STAT6, which was accompanied by the inability of 1,25(OH)2D3 to raise GATA-3 in STAT6 null lymphocytes.


These results of vitamin D promoting a Th2 shift through upstream GATA-3 and STAT6 transcription factors shed mechanistic understanding on the utility of vitamin D in MS.