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BACKGROUND: Vitamin D insufficiency has been implicated in autoimmunity. ChIP-seq experiments using immune cell lines have shown that vitamin D receptor (VDR) binding sites are enriched near regions of the genome associated with autoimmune diseases. We aimed to investigate VDR binding in primary CD4+ cells from healthy volunteers. METHODS: We extracted CD4+ cells from nine healthy volunteers. Each sample underwent VDR ChIP-seq. Our results were analyzed in relation to published ChIP-seq and RNA-seq data in the Genomic HyperBrowser. We used MEMEChIP for de novo motif discovery. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D levels were measured using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry and samples were divided into vitamin D sufficient (25(OH)D ≥75 nmol/L) and insufficient/deficient (25(OH)D <75 nmol/L) groups. RESULTS: We found that the amount of VDR binding is correlated with the serum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (r = 0.92, P= 0.0005). In vivo VDR binding sites are enriched for autoimmune disease associated loci, especially when 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (25(OH)D) were sufficient (25(OH)D ≥75: 3.13-fold, P<0.0001; 25(OH)D <75: 2.76-fold, P<0.0001; 25(OH)D ≥75 enrichment versus 25(OH)D <75 enrichment: P= 0.0002). VDR binding was also enriched near genes associated specifically with T-regulatory and T-helper cells in the 25(OH)D ≥75 group. MEME ChIP did not identify any VDR-like motifs underlying our VDR ChIP-seq peaks. CONCLUSION: Our results show a direct correlation between in vivo 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels and the number of VDR binding sites, although our sample size is relatively small. Our study further implicates VDR binding as important in gene-environment interactions underlying the development of autoimmunity and provides a biological rationale for 25-hydroxyvitamin D sufficiency being based at 75 nmol/L. Our results also suggest that VDR binding in response to physiological levels of vitamin D occurs predominantly in a VDR motif-independent manner.

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Amino Acid Motifs, Amino Acid Sequence, Autoimmune Diseases, Binding Sites, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Genomics, Humans, Primary Cell Culture, Protein Array Analysis, Receptors, Calcitriol, Vitamin D