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Blood. 2017 May 18;129(20):2801-2807. doi: 10.1182/blood-2017-02-765826. Epub 2017 Mar 9.

Lower levels of vitamin A are associated with increased gastrointestinal graft-versus-host disease in children.

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Division of Bone Marrow Transplant and Immune Deficiency.
Division of Nutrition Therapy, and.
Department of Pharmacy, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH.


Vitamin A promotes development of mucosal tolerance and enhances differentiation of regulatory T cells. Vitamin A deficiency impairs epithelial integrity, increasing intestinal permeability. We hypothesized that higher vitamin A levels would reduce the risk of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) through reduced gastrointestinal (GI) permeability, reduced mucosal injury, and reduced lymphocyte homing to the gut. We tested this hypothesis in a cohort study of 114 consecutive patients undergoing allogeneic stem cell transplant. Free vitamin A levels were measured in plasma at day 30 posttransplant. GI GVHD was increased in patients with vitamin A levels below the median (38% vs 12.4% at 100 days, P = .0008), as was treatment-related mortality (17.7% vs 7.4% at 1 year, P = .03). Bloodstream infections were increased in patients with vitamin A levels below the median (24% vs 8% at 1 year, P = .03), supporting our hypothesis of increased intestinal permeability. The GI mucosal intestinal fatty acid-binding protein was decreased after transplant, confirming mucosal injury, but was not correlated with vitamin A levels, indicating that vitamin A did not protect against mucosal injury. Expression of the gut homing receptor CCR9 on T-effector memory cells 30 days after transplant was increased in children with vitamin A levels below the median (r = -0.34, P = .03). Taken together, these data support our hypothesis that low levels of vitamin A actively promote GI GVHD and are not simply a marker of poor nutritional status or a sicker patient. Vitamin A supplementation might improve transplant outcomes.

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