How vitamin D regulates the role of dopamine in brain cells
Existing research suggests that maternal vitamin D deficiency may be associated with developmental brain disorders such as schizophrenia. For this study, scientists at the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute went a step further by examining the functional changes that occur in the brain when a pregnant person experiences vitamin D deficiency.
To do this, the team developed cells that mimic key brain cells and recreated some of the processes that occur during brain development. They then allowed this development to occur in an environment with and without the active vitamin D hormone.
The results clearly showed that cells exposed to vitamin D developed significantly differently. With a sufficient amount of vitamin D, there were changes in the distribution of presynaptic proteins responsible for the release of dopamine in the cells, which led to an increased release of dopamine. As the study’s authors noted in a press release, “We found that the differentiation process in the presence of vitamin D not only causes cells to grow differently, but also engages mechanisms to release dopamine differently.”
The researchers next investigated this phenomenon using a tool called false fluorescent neurotransmitters, which helped them visualize the functional changes occurring in these presynaptic proteins. Again, the results showed enhanced dopamine release in the presence of vitamin D. As the authors explained again, “This is strong evidence that vitamin D affects the structural differentiation of dopaminergic neurons.”