Within the last decade, vitamin D has emerged as a central regulator of host defense against infections. In this regard, vitamin D triggers effective antimicrobial pathways against bacterial, fungal and viral pathogens in cells of the human innate immune system. However, vitamin D also mediates potent tolerogenic effects: it is generally believed that vitamin D attenuates inflammation and acquired immunity, and thus potentially limits collateral tissue damage. Nevertheless, several studies indicate that vitamin D promotes aspects of acquired host defense. Clinically, vitamin D deficiency has been associated with an increased risk for various infectious diseases in epidemiological studies; yet, robust data from controlled trials investigating the use of vitamin D as a preventive or therapeutic agent are missing. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge regarding the effect of vitamin D on innate and acquired host defense, and speculate on the difficulties to translate the available molecular medicine data into practical therapeutic or preventive recommendations.
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