JOHNSON CITY (June 23, 2016) – Two scientists at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine led an international research team that recently discovered vitamin D may be able to reduce soft tissue calcification.
“We know we need vitamin D for strong bones, especially during older age when osteoporosis sets in,” said Dr. Matt Keasey, a research associate in the Department of Biomedical Sciences working with Dr. Theo Hagg, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, as members of the research team. “This new study suggests that it also reduces regular age-related soft tissue calcification in arteries and the brain.”
Soft tissue calcification is relatively common in the elderly, with arteries being particularly vulnerable and the brain also being vulnerable as individuals age, Hagg added.
Using a novel technique known as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), Keasey was able to inactivate a specific gene to show that vitamin D decreases calcification in cultured cells by acting through that gene. He found that, once the gene was inactivated, the vitamin D was no longer able to prevent calcification. The gene is related to a specific brain disease, Fahr’s disease, which results in a major decline in neurological function and mental abilities.
“The finding is unexpected because it shows that vitamin D has the opposite effect than in bones,” Keasey explained. “On one hand, vitamin D stimulates good calcification in bone. On the other hand, it reduces bad calcification in soft tissues.”
Keasey and Hagg are working with Dr. João Ricardo Mendes de Oliveira and Roberta Lemos from Brazil, leading authorities on genetic disorders of the brain. The article they wrote related to their research recently was published in the leading journal, Scientific Reports.
“This study indicates that vitamin D intake should be more closely monitored in the elderly, not just to promote healthy bones, but to reduce soft tissue calcification,” Hagg said. “Since exposure to sunlight is a major source of vitamin D production in humans, the study also suggests that perhaps we all should spend a bit more time outside.”