When too much sun is never enough: association of the VDR gene polymorphisms with insulin resistance
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The metabolism of vitamin D commences with exposure of the skin to sunlight. The growing recognition of its role in insulin resistance, autoimmune disorders, infections, cancer, as well as the health of cells that influence physical and mental function have profound implications on how we define vitamin D requirements and why we should care whether they are met or not. Most of the actions of vitamin D are mediated by the vitamin D receptor (VDR), a protein whose gene sequence can vary, giving rise to polymorphic forms which are potent enough to affect the binding capacity of this protein to vitamin D. Some of these polymorphic forms of VDR gene may be associated with reduced effectiveness of vitamin D and hence predispose individuals to diseases such as type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. An earlier study, the Surya Study, looked at the responsiveness of the South-Asian women living in Auckland to vitamin D. The research described here is an extension of this study and its focus was to identify the associations/linkages between certain polymorphic forms of the VDR gene and the disease conditions and intervention responsiveness in the same women. The first objective was to compare two well known techniques for genotyping single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of the VDR gene at the 3’ end, namely BsmI, ApaI and TaqI: the newer real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and the traditional restriction fragment length polymorphism polymerase chain reaction (RFLP-PCR) techniques. This comparison was performed to evaluate alternative methods for genotyping which consumed less time than RFLP-PCR. When the presence of each polymorphism by both the techniques was compared in this cohort of South-Asian women, it was found that RFLP-PCR proved to be a more reliable technique than qPCR for genotyping the VDR gene. Another objective of this project was to investigate the prevalence of the above three polymorphisms along with Cdx-2 and FokI SNPs which are present at the 5’ end of the VDR gene, in the population under study and their possible association with phenotypes such as vitamin D responsiveness and insulin resistance. These women were screened and biochemical data was collected during the earlier Surya Study. Of these, eighty-one women were then selected for intervention based on them having high insulin resistance (HOMA-IR>1.93) and serum 25(OH)D<50 nmol/L. Out of these eighty-one women, forty-two were given vitamin D supplement and thirty-nine were given a placebo for six months. Baseline and endpoint measurements included insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), insulin sensitivity (HOMA2%S) etc. How each individual responded to treatment in the intervention group was analysed in the context of the polymorphisms that they had. An association of insulin resistance with BsmI, ApaI and TaqI SNPs was observed in this cohort of 239 women. The response to insulin resistance in the vitamin D supplemented group significantly differed for FokI genotype compared to other genotypes. This explained why certain women responded to treatment better than the others. When the frequencies of the genotypes of these five SNPs of the VDR gene were compared to other studies of different ethnicities, the results of this study were consistent with few studies but contradictory to others. The possible reasons for these differences could be because of small sample size and different ethnicities under study due to which the frequency of alleles and hence the genotypes differed.