Vitamin D increases the number of blood stem cells during embryonic development

October 4, 2016
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Short exposure to vitamin D influences the number of blood stem cells in human umbilical cords and zebrafish embryos, Harvard researchers report October 4 in Cell Reports. They hypothesize that the levels of vitamin D during fetal development may play a role in preventing the onset of blood-related disorders later in life. Vitamin D deficiency affects more than one billion people worldwide, and it is known that children born with severe vitamin D deficiency often develop a variety of blood-related issues, including anemia and low platelet numbers.

"There are global issues with insufficiency of vitamin D and we don't really have a full appreciation of how that might alter how some of the normal regulatory programs in our bodies respond," says senior author Trista North, a stem cell biologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "We clearly showed that not getting enough vitamin D can alter how are formed. Vitamin D was having a direct response on the blood stem cells and it changed what those cells did in terms of multiplying and staying alive."

North and her collaborators found, in both human and zebrafish tissue, that vitamin D affects inflammatory signals that help control the formation of blood stem cells. They also found that when Vitamin D exposure was blocked, fewer cells were formed. "What was surprising was that Vitamin D is having an impact so early," says North. "We really only thought about Vitamin D in terms of bone development and maintenance, but we clearly show that, whether they were zebrafish or human blood stem cells, they can respond directly to the nutrient."

One caveat is the researchers did face difficulty testing the response in mice, as the animals don't have the same vitamin D inflammatory targets observed in both fish and humans. Additionally, the investigators didn't know the vitamin D levels in the umbilical cord blood samples they tested, so they don't know whether vitamin D came from a person who had healthy levels of the nutrient and how that influenced the outcome of their analysis. As a next step, North and her colleagues hope to test cord blood samples for which they know the vitamin D status to see if umbilical cords with healthy levels respond better or worse to stimulation than cords from vitamin-D-deficient donors.

Although this study examined how vitamin D affected early development of blood stem cells, more research needs to be done to examine how it can influence other critical processes during embryonic development. North and her collaborators hope that these studies one day help us understand the importance of vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy to ensure that mothers maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.

"I think when people start to look at other organ systems and stem cell populations, it will be interesting to know if doctors start to recommend anything to help with D levels in pregnant mothers," says North. "This study was just scratching the surface, and there will be a whole lot more to follow up."

Explore further: Increasing nursing mothers' vitamin D levels may benefit babies

More information: Cell Reports, Cortes, Chen, Stachura, North et al: "Developmental Vitamin D availability impacts hematopoietic stem cell production" http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(16)31217-7 , DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2016.09.012

Related Stories

Previously unknown effect of vitamin A identified

February 24, 2015

The signal molecule, retinoic acid, is a product of vitamin A which helps to instruct how different types of tissue are to be formed in the growing embryo. For the first time, Professor Niels-Bjarne Woods' laboratory, Lund ...

Low vitamin D linked to dry eye syndromes

February 10, 2016

(HealthDay)—Vitamin D deficiency is associated with dry eye and impaired tear function, according to a study published in the January issue of the International Journal of Rheumatic Diseases.

Recommended for you

Losing sleep over climate change

May 26, 2017

Climate change may keep you awake—and not just metaphorically. Nights that are warmer than normal can harm human sleep, researchers show in a new paper, with the poor and elderly most affected. According to their findings, ...

Vitamin D supplements could help pain management

May 23, 2017

Vitamin D supplementation combined with good sleeping habits may help manage pain-related diseases. This paper published in the Journal of Endocrinology, reviews published research on the relationship between vitamin D levels, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.