Vitamin D deficiency affects dopaminergic neuron differentiation in schizophrenia

Vitamin D deficiency affects developing neurons in schizophrenia by using new technology.


Vitamin D has been found as an important element in the development and differentiation of dopaminergic neurons.

The University of Queensland’s neuroscientists has used cutting-edge technology to reveal how vitamin D deficiency in schizophrenia impacts growing neurons.

To comprehend the functional changes occurring in the brain, Professor Darryl Eyles has expanded on prior research relating maternal vitamin D deficiency and brain development abnormalities, such as schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is connected with a significant alteration in how the brain uses dopamine, the neurotransmitter known as the brain’s “reward molecule.” Professor Eyles investigated the mechanisms underlying aberrant dopamine release and revealed that maternal vitamin D insufficiency influences the early development and later differentiation of dopaminergic neurons.

They cultured the neurons in the presence and absence of active vitamin D hormone. They found that dopamine neurite outgrowth was significantly increased, as were changes in the distribution of presynaptic proteins involved in dopamine release inside these neurites.

Professor Eyles and his colleagues discovered that vitamin D influences dopaminergic neuron structural differentiation. 

The Queensland Brain Institute researchers created dopamine-like cells to mimic the process of differentiation into early dopaminergic neurons that occur throughout embryonic development.

They grew the neurons both with and without the active vitamin D hormone. Dopamine neurite outgrowth was significantly boosted in three separate model systems.

They then showed alterations in the distribution of presynaptic proteins responsible for dopamine release within these neurites.

Professor Eyles said, “What we found was the altered differentiation process in the presence of vitamin D not only makes the cells grow differently but recruits machinery to release dopamine differently.” 

The team analyzed the functional changes in presynaptic dopamine absorption and release in the presence and absence of vitamin D using a new visualization approach called fake fluorescent neurotransmitters.

They discovered that when cells were grown in the presence of the hormone, dopamine release was increased compared to a control.

This is conclusive evidence that vitamin D influences dopaminergic neuron morphological development. 

Professor Eyles and his colleagues expanded on their long-held notion that maternal vitamin D insufficiency affects the formation of early dopaminergic circuits by leveraging breakthroughs in targeting and visualizing single molecules within presynaptic nerve terminals. 

The researchers are now investigating if additional environmental risk factors for schizophrenia, such as maternal hypoxia or infection, change the course of dopamine neuron differentiation in the same way.

Eyles and his colleagues believe that such early changes in dopamine neuron differentiation and function may be the neurodevelopmental basis of later dopamine malfunction in people with schizophrenia.

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Council of Australia and generously supported by philanthropists Ben and Werona Armstrong.

Journal Reference:

  1. Renata Aparecida Nedel Pertile,Rachel Brigden, et al. Vitamin D: A potent regulator of dopaminergic neuron differentiation and function. Journal of Neurochemistry. DOI:10.1111/jnc.15829