Research ArticleTuberculosis

Vitamin D Is Required for IFN-γ–Mediated Antimicrobial Activity of Human Macrophages

Science Translational Medicine  12 Oct 2011:
Vol. 3, Issue 104, pp. 104ra102
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003045

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Control of tuberculosis worldwide depends on our understanding of human immune mechanisms, which combat the infection. Acquired T cell responses are critical for host defense against microbial pathogens, yet the mechanisms by which they act in humans remain unclear. We report that T cells, by the release of interferon-γ (IFN-γ), induce autophagy, phagosomal maturation, the production of antimicrobial peptides such as cathelicidin, and antimicrobial activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis in human macrophages via a vitamin D–dependent pathway. IFN-γ induced the antimicrobial pathway in human macrophages cultured in vitamin D–sufficient sera, but not in sera from African-Americans that have lower amounts of vitamin D and who are more susceptible to tuberculosis. In vitro supplementation of vitamin D–deficient serum with 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 restored IFN-γ–induced antimicrobial peptide expression, autophagy, phagosome-lysosome fusion, and antimicrobial activity. These results suggest a mechanism in which vitamin D is required for acquired immunity to overcome the ability of intracellular pathogens to evade macrophage-mediated antimicrobial responses. The present findings underscore the importance of adequate amounts of vitamin D in all human populations for sustaining both innate and acquired immunity against infection.


  • * Present address: Department of Dermatology, University of Cologne, 50937 Cologne, Germany.

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