Verhandelingen - Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde van België vol:57 issue:5 pages:371-85; discussion 385-7
Vitamin D has been discovered at the beginning of this century. 7-Dehydrocholesterol is converted to vitamin D3 in the skin and after several hydroxylations it is further converted to the active hormonal form, 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3. Vitamin D stimulates the absorption of calcium and phosphate and is an essential link in bone resorption and formation and calcium metabolism. 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3 acts through a vitamin D receptor. These receptors are not only present in clinical target organs (kidney, gut, liver) but can also be found in a wide variety of "non-classical" tissues (keratinocytes, cells belonging to the immune system). Moreover, numerous cells (keratinocytes, macrophages) can locally synthetize or can be induced to synthetize 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3 and these cells are responsive to its action. When these data are combined, a possible paracrine function of 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3 can be suspected. Via this paracrine function 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3 can suppress the cellular and humoral immunity. Based on the discovery of these effects on immune cells in vitro it became clear that 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3 might be an interesting molecule to prevent autoimmune diseases and organ transplantation. This has already been shown in several animal models (Heymann nephritis, diabetes mellitus, experimental allergic-encephalomyelitis, lupus). 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3 demonstrates however some side-effects (hypercalciuria, hypercalcemia, bone resorption) and for this reason 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3-analogs are developed with dissociated effects i.e. an activity profile that allows a specific action on non-classical tissues without calcemic effects. Some chemical modifications of the side chain, A and/or CD-ring results in "superanalogs" with 10 to 100-fold more activity on cell differentiation and the immune system then 1 alpha,25-(OH)2D3 but with less calcemic activity in vivo. These biological effects can be explained by differences in pharmacokinetics (low affinity for the plasma vitamin D-binding protein and short extracellular half-life) and increased intracellular activation and gen transactivation. Preclinical research must still be done to select the most potent superanalogs and to find the exact protocols for the prevention and treatment of autoimmune diseases and rejection of transplanted organs.