A new study shows that variations in the HAL (histidine ammonia-lyase) gene influence production of vitamin D in the skin by controlling the production of an ultraviolet (UV) light-absorbing molecule.
Published online ahead of print in Nature Communications (Apr. 2020), the genome-wide association study looked at 25 hydroxyvitamin D (250HD) concentration in 417,580 Europeans.
“This study has implicated several new skin-related genes that impact on our vitamin D status—distinct from skin colour which affects our ability to make vitamin D depending on the concentration of the pigment melanin in the skin,” said senior author Professor John J. McGrath, in a press release.
Dr. McGrath, who is a professor in the school of clinical medicine and cojoint professor of the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland (UQ), Brisbane, Australia, said the findings suggest that genetic variants in the HAL gene can vary the concentration of a small molecule in the skin which acts like an internal Sun Protection Factor, or SPF.
This molecule absorbs UVB light–which the skin uses to make vitamin D—and the amount of this molecule in the skin influences how much of the vitamin is made, according to the release.
Study author Professor Naomi Wray from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and the Queensland Brain Institute said in the release that the team found 143 gene locations linked to vitamin D concentration.
“Previously we only knew about six regions, so these findings will provide new insights into how our body handles vitamin D,” Dr. Wray said.
“The study has found many interesting new candidates that can help our understanding of factors that influence vitamin D concentration.
“Our findings are a treasure trove of clues which will keep researchers busy for a long time.”
The study supports the hypothesis that low vitamin D may be the consequence of poor health, rather than contributing to the risk, researchers say.
Funding for the study came from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council [NHMRC] and the Danish National Research Foundation (Niels Bohr Professorship).