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J Neurosci. 2001 Jan 1;21(1):98-108.

Vitamin D hormone confers neuroprotection in parallel with downregulation of L-type calcium channel expression in hippocampal neurons.

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Departments of Pharmacology and Internal Medicine, Division of Nephrology, Bone and Mineral Metabolism, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40536, USA.


Although vitamin D hormone (VDH; 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3)), the active metabolite of vitamin D, is the major Ca(2+)-regulatory steroid hormone in the periphery, it is not known whether it also modulates Ca(2+) homeostasis in brain neurons. Recently, chronic treatment with VDH was reported to protect brain neurons in both aging and animal models of stroke. However, it is unclear whether those actions were attributable to direct effects on brain cells or indirect effects mediated via peripheral pathways. VDH modulates L-type voltage-sensitive Ca(2+) channels (L-VSCCs) in peripheral tissues, and an increase in L-VSCCs appears linked to both brain aging and neuronal vulnerability. Therefore, we tested the hypothesis that VDH has direct neuroprotective actions and, in parallel, targets L-VSCCs in hippocampal neurons. Primary rat hippocampal cultures, treated for several days with VDH, exhibited a U-shaped concentration-response curve for neuroprotection against excitotoxic insults: lower concentrations of VDH (1-100 nm) were protective, but higher, nonphysiological concentrations (500-1000 nm) were not. Parallel studies using patch-clamp techniques found a similar U-shaped curve in which L-VSCC current was reduced at lower VDH concentrations and increased at higher (500 nm) concentrations. Real-time PCR studies demonstrated that VDH monotonically downregulated mRNA expression for the alpha(1C) and alpha(1D) pore-forming subunits of L-VSCCs. However, 500 nm VDH also nonspecifically reduced a range of other mRNA species. Thus, these studies provide the first evidence of (1) direct neuroprotective actions of VDH at relatively low concentrations, and (2) selective downregulation of L-VSCC expression in brain neurons at the same, lower concentrations.

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