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Evolution and function of vitamin D.

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Vitamin D Laboratory, Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition, Department of Medicine, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA 02118, USA.


It is remarkable that phytoplankton and zooplankton have been producing vitamin D for more than 500 million years. The role of vitamin D in lower non-vertebrate life forms is not well understood. However, it is critically important that most vertebrates obtain an adequate source of vitamin D, either from exposure to sunlight or from their diet, in order to develop and maintain a healthy mineralized skeleton. Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized epidemic in most adults who are not exposed to adequate sunlight. This can precipitate and exacerbate osteoporosis and cause the painful bone disease osteomalacia. Once vitamin D is absorbed from the diet or made in the skin by the action of sunlight, it is metabolized in the liver to 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] and then in the kidney to 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)2D]. 1,25(OH)2D interacts with its nuclear receptor (VDR) in the intestine and bone in order to maintain calcium homeostasis. The VDR is also present in a wide variety of other tissues. 1,25(OH)2D interacts with these receptors to have a multitude of important physiological effects. In addition, it is now recognized that many tissues, including colon, breast and prostate, have the enzymatic machinery to produce 1,25(OH)2D. The insights into the new biological functions of 1,25(OH)2D in regulating cell growth, modulating the immune system and modulating the renin-angiotensin system provides an explanation for why diminished sun exposure at higher latitudes is associated with increased risk of dying of many common cancers, developing type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, and having a higher incidence of hypertension. Another calciotropic hormone that is also produced in the skin, parathyroid hormone-related peptide, is also a potent inhibitor of squamous cell proliferation. The use of agonists and antagonists for PTHrP has important clinical applications for the prevention and treatment of skin diseases and disorders of hair growth.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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