Scientists say that vitamin D may be an effective therapy to treat and even prevent allergy to a common mold that can cause severe complications for patients with cystic fibrosis and asthma.
The findings are based on a study, conducted by researchers from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Louisiana State University School of Medicine.
Aspergillus fumigatus, is one of the most common airborne molds and while it does not cause illness in the vast majority of those who inhale it, it can cause life threatening allergic symptoms in patients with cystic fibrosis.
As many as 15 percent of patients with cystic fibrosis will develop a severe allergic response, known as Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA). Some patients with asthma also can develop ABPA.
The research team, led led by Jay Kolls, a lung disease researcher at Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, studied cystic fibrosis patients from the Antonio J. and Janet Palumbo Cystic Fibrosis Center at Children's Hospital who had A. fumigatus infections. One group had developed ABPA, while the other hadn't.
The researchers found that the ABPA patients had a heightened response by immune cells known as type 2 T helper (Th2) cells, and that a protein known as OX40L was critical to this heightened response.
The heightened Th2 response correlated with lower levels of vitamin D as compared with the non-ABPA patients. Adding vitamin D to these cells in the laboratory substantially reduced the expression of OX40L and increased the expression of other proteins critical to the development of allergen tolerance.
"We found that adding vitamin D substantially reduced the production of the protein driving the allergic response and also increased production of the protein that promotes tolerance. Based on our results, we have strong rationale for a clinical trial of vitamin D to determine whether it can prevent or treat ABPA in patients with cystic fibrosis," said Dr. Kolls.
The study has been published in the September 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.