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Background: Multiple sclerosis (MS) disease risk is associated with reduced sun exposure. This study assessed the relationship between measures of sun-exposure (vitamin D (vitD), latitude) and MS disease severity, the mechanisms of action, and effect-modification by medication and sun-sensitivity associated MC1R variants. Methods: Two multi-center cohort studies (nNationMS=946, nBIONAT=991). Outcomes were the multiple sclerosis severity score (MSSS) and the number of Gd-enhancing lesion (GELs). RNAseq of four immune cell populations before and after UV-phototherapy of five MS patients. Results: High serum vitD was associated with reduced MSSS (PNationMS=0.021; PBIONAT=0.007) and reduced risk for disease aggravation (PNationMS=0.032). Low latitude was associated with higher vitD, lower MSSS (PNationMS=0.018), fewer GELs (PNationMS=0.030) and reduced risk for aggravation (PNationMS=0.044). The influence of latitude on disability seemed to be lacking in the subgroup of interferon-{beta} treated patients (interaction-PBIONAT=0.042, interaction-PNationMS=0.053). In genetic analyses, carriers of MC1R:rs1805008(T), who reported increased sensitivity towards sunlight (PNationMS=0.038), the relationship between latitude und the number of GELs was inversed (PNationMS=0.001). Phototherapy induced a vitD and type I interferon signature that was most apparent in the transcriptome of monocytes (P=1x10-6). Conclusion: VitD is associated with reduced MS severity and disease aggravation. This is likely driven by sun-exposure, as latitude also correlated with disability and serum vitD. However, sun-exposure might be detrimental for sun-sensitive patients. A direct induction of type I interferons through sun-exposure could explain a reduced effect of latitude in interferon-{beta} treated patients. This could also explain opposite effects of sun-exposure in MS and the type I interferon and sun-sensitivity-associated disease Lupus.

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