OXFORD, England—Scientists have linked vitamin D to genes related to many diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Results of their genome study are published online ahead of print on Aug. 24 in Genome Research. The study was a collaboration of British and Canadian Universities, led by Oxford University.

The researchers mapped the molecular interactions of the vitamin D  receptor (VDR) across the genome, finding numerous locations where VDR binding influences genes involved in various diseases. They used the ChIP-seq technique to isolate fragments of genomic DNA bound to the VDR before and after treatment of cells with calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D; they then sequenced the DNA fragments and identified more than 2,700 sites of VDR binding, including regions associated with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and Crohn’s disease, as well as genome sites linked to cancers such as leukemia and colorectal cancer. Their investigation revealed a novel role for vitamin D at several disease genes, a discovery that should drive future research. They even found VDR binding locations involved in tanning, height and hair color.

Lead study author Sreeram Ramagopalan, Ph.D., of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University said this research shows just how important vitamin D is to humans and the wide variety of biological pathways in which vitamin D plays a role. He noted the findings support the hypothesis that vitamin D interacts with genes in the pathogenesis of these diseases and punctuates the serious risks of vitamin D deficiency, especially for individuals who may be genetically predisposed to be sensitive to insufficiency. “Considerations of vitamin D supplementation as a preventative measure for these diseases are strongly warranted,” he said.