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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 302-308  

Vitamin D and periodontal health: Current concepts

Department of Periodontics, Shree Balaji Dental College and Hospital, Pallikaranai, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission08-Nov-2012
Date of Acceptance04-Apr-2013
Date of Web Publication25-Jul-2013

Correspondence Address:
Nithya Anand
Department of Periodontics, Shree Balaji Dental College and Hospital, Pallikaranai, Chennai - 600 100, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-124X.115645

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Vitamin D is crucial for a wide variety of organ systems; nevertheless, its deficiency is highly prevalent, present in 30-50% of the general population. Evidence has demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency may place subjects at risk for not only low mineral bone density/osteoporosis and osteopenia, but also infectious and chronic inflammatory diseases. Through its effect on bone and mineral metabolism, innate immunity, and several vitamin D receptor gene polymorphisms, vitamin D has been reported to be associated with the periodontal disease.

Keywords: Mineral bone density, periodontal disease, vitamin D receptor gene polymorphism, vitamin D

How to cite this article:
Anand N, Chandrasekaran S C, Rajput NS. Vitamin D and periodontal health: Current concepts. J Indian Soc Periodontol 2013;17:302-8

How to cite this URL:
Anand N, Chandrasekaran S C, Rajput NS. Vitamin D and periodontal health: Current concepts. J Indian Soc Periodontol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2022 May 19];17:302-8. Available from:

   Introduction Top

In tradition, vitamin D has been associated with bone health and it is well-understood that vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets in children and osteomalacia/osteoporosis in adults. [1] However, it is now known that adequate vitamin D is important for optimal functioning of many organs and tissues throughout the body. [2] Vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency is prevalent in practically every segment of the population, including children and young adults. This world-wide pandemic remains generally unrecognized and untreated. Evolving data indicate that vitamin D deficiency in addition to playing a significant role in the genesis of coronary risk factors also pre-disposes to hypertension, diabetes, the metabolic syndrome, left ventricular hypertrophy, congestive heart failure, and chronic vascular inflammation. [1],[2] Vitamin D is classified as a secosteroid in which one of the rings has been broken by ultraviolet B (UVB) sunlight and the main source of vitamin D is de novo synthesis in the skin. Although vitamin D is consumed in food, dietary intake alone is often insufficient, supplying only 20% of the body's requirements. In recent years, the discovery of the vitamin D receptor (VDR) in the cells of the immune system and the fact that several of these cells produce the vitamin D hormone suggested that it could have immunoregulatory properties.

   Physiology and Metabolism Top

Vitamin D comes in two forms: Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Vitamin D2, found in plants, is the product of UVB-290-315 mm irradiation of ergosterol, and can be consumed as a supplement or in fortified foods. Vitamin D3, a product of UVB irradiation of 7-dehydrocholesterol, is synthesized in the human epidermis or consumed in the form of oily fish, fortified foods or a supplement [Figure 1]. [1] Vitamin D is converted in the liver to 25(OH) D, which is the major circulating metabolite of vitamin D.
Figure 1: Vitamin D synthesis

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In the kidney, 25(OH) D is converted by 1-hydroxylase to its active form, 1, 25-dihydroxy vitamin D (1, 25(OH) 2 D), which plays a vital role in maintaining bone and muscle health by regulating calcium metabolism.

Vitamin D in the form of 1, 25(OH) 2 D is a hormone, because it is produced primarily in the kidney and then circulates throughout the body, where it exerts wide ranging effects [Figure 2] and [Figure 3].
Figure 2: Bioactions of vitamin D

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Figure 3: Systemic effects of vitamin D deficiency

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The VDR-bound 1, 25(OH) 2 D in turn binds to the retinoic acid x-receptor and serves as a nuclear transcription factor, altering gene function and inducing protein synthesis. [1] Directly or indirectly, 1, 25(OH) 2 D regulates over 200 genes, including those involved in renin production in the kidney, insulin production in the pancreas, release of cytokines from lymphocytes, production of cathelicidin in macrophages and growth and proliferation of both vascular smooth muscle cells and cardiomyocytes. [1]

   Vitamin D - An Immunomodulating Agent Top

Innate immunity

The innate immune system can also be inhibited by vitamin D. Here, vitamin D has been shown to inhibit the differentiation, maturation, and immune-stimulating ability of dendritic cells by down-regulating the expression of Major Histocompatibility Complex class II molecules. [3] Dendritic cells have important functions in maintaining both protective immunity and self-tolerance. Immature dendritic cells promote T-cell tolerance, whereas mature dendritic cells activate naive T-cells. Physiologic levels of vitamin D inhibit the maturation of dendritic cells and maintain an immature and tolerogenic phenotype with inhibition of activation markers such as MHC class II, Cluster of D ifferentiation (CD) 40, CD80, and CD86 up-regulation of inhibitory molecules. Vitamin D concurrently suppresses interleukin (IL)-12 and enhances IL-10 production in these dendritic cells. [4]

Interestingly, vitamin D has also been shown to have a stimulatory effect on monocytes in vitro, suggesting a complex role in immune hemostasis rather than a purely suppressive effect on the immune system [Figure 4]a. [3] The extent of this physiologic balance has yet to be fully elucidated.Vitamin D also influences the immune response through the regulation of cathelicidin, which is the only antimicrobial peptide produced by humans. [5] Cathelicidin is produced by neutrophils, macrophages, and the cells lining the epithelial surfaces of the skin, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract - the sites, which are constantly exposed to potential pathogens. Cathelicidin has a broad antimicrobial activity against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, as well as certain viruses and fungi. Vitamin D treatment up-regulated cathelicidin mRNA in several cell lines and primary cultures including keratinocytes, neutrophils, and macrophages [Figure 4]b. [6]
Figure 4: (a) Vitamin D effect on immune cells; (b) Effect on cathelicidin

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Humoral immunity

The activation of CD4 + T-cells results in a five-fold increase in VDR expression, enabling calcitriol to regulate at least 102 identified genes. [7] This regulatory effect has a downstream impact on the levels of circulating chemokines and cytokines. T helper 1 (Th1) cells secrete interferon gamma (IFNγ), IL-2, IL-12, and tumor necrosis factor alpha, all of which augment the cell-mediated defense against intracellular pathogens. Th2 cells express IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13, which further propagate the Th2 response. These Th2-derived cytokines modulate the immune response against parasites and are also associated with the regulation of atopy and asthma. [8],[9] Vitamin D exerts a strong suppressive effect on the expression of IL-2 and IFNγ in a VDR-regulated mechanism. The suppression of IL-2 production, in turn, inhibits T-cell proliferation. Evaluation of T-lymphocyte subpopulations demonstrates that vitamin D blocks the induction of Th1 cytokines, especially IFNγ, although simultaneously enhancing Th2 responses through the enhancement of IL-4 production. [8],[9] Overall, vitamin D decreases cell-mediated immune responses. This suppressive effect on humoral immunity is facilitated through the effect of vitamin D3 on Antigen Presenting Cells (APC). In APCs, calcitriol inhibits the production of IL-12, a cytokine that normally enhances the Th1 response. In effect, vitamin D acts as a physiologic "brake" on humoral immunity.

Auto immunity

VDR agonists not only favor induction of CD4 + CD25 + T reg cells and enhance their suppressive activity, but can also promote their recruitment at inflammatory sites. Furthermore, 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 treatments induced natural killer (NK) T-cell functions in vitro and in vivo[10] [Figure 1]. NK T-cells are early innate regulatory cells that can alter the outcome of autoimmunity. Therefore, two types of cells are induced by 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 , the T reg and the NK T-cells; induction of these regulatory cells and direct inhibition of Th1 cells are the mechanisms by which 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 suppresses experimental autoimmunity. [10] In addition, treatment with VDR agonists inhibits the T-cell production of IL-17, a pro-inflammatory cytokine that is produced by pathogenic T-cells (Th17) in various models of organ-specific autoimmunity in the brain, heart, synovium, and intestines. [11] Interestingly, IL-17 production is sustained by IL-23, an IL-12 family member consisting of p19 and p40 chains, the latter of which is strongly inhibited by VDR agonists. [11]

Anti-cancer effect

Recently, 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 treatment induced a significant inhibition of normal lymphoid cell progenitors growth of both T and B lineage and inhibited significantly also the growth of malignant B-cell lineage lymphoid progenitors, without inducing cytotoxic effect [Figure 4]a. [12]

More recently, by testing the effects of 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 on B-cell responses and it was found that it inhibited the ongoing proliferation of activated B-cells and induced their apoptosis, whereas initial cell division was unimpeded. [13] The generation of plasma cells and post-switch memory B-cells was significantly inhibited by 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 although the up-regulation of genetic programs involved in B-cell differentiation was only modestly affected [Figure 4]b. B-cells expressed mRNAs for proteins involved in vitamin D activity, including 1 α-hydroxylase, 24-hydroxylase and the VDR, each of which was regulated by 1,25(OH) 2 D 3 and/or activation. Interestingly, 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 up-regulated the expression of p27, but not of p18 and p21, which may be important in regulating the proliferation of activated B-cells and their subsequent differentiation in plasma cells [13] vitamin D.

   Vitamin D and Bone Metabolism Top

As an important component of interactions among the kidney, bone, parathyroid gland, and intestine, vitamin D helps to modulate skeletal and mineral homeostasis. Through its role in maintaining proper extracellular calcium levels, vitamin D is essential in maintaining skeletal integrity. Several molecules namely receptor activator of NF-kB ligand (RANKL), and a RANKL antagonist (osteoprotegerinor [OPG]) are produced by osteoblasts and other cells such as activated CD4 + T lymphocytes and are important regulators of bone remodeling. [14] Binding of RANKL to RANK, expressed on the surface of osteoclast progenitor cells, causes them to differentiate into mature osteoclasts. OPG acts as a soluble receptor for RANKL, inhibiting RANK-RANKL interaction and the maturation of osteoclast progenitor cells. The relative ratio of RANKL to OPG in the osteoclast precursor microenvironment can thus determine mature osteoclast formation. The RANKL gene promotor structure contains vitamin D and glucocorticoid response elements, and studies have shown that vitamin D-VDR stimulates RANKL expression in cells such as osteoblasts and bone marrow-derived stromal cells. [15] Vitamin D has been shown to down regulate OPG, and this combination of increased RANKL expression and decreased expression of OPG caused by vitamin D would favor differentiation and activation of osteoclasts and increased bone resorption. [16] However, However kitazaw et al reported that while vitamin d initially releases OPG Kitazaw et al., reported that while vitamin D initially represses OPG, long-term exposure to vitamin D led to a recovery of OPG expression. This suggested that the catabolic effects of vitamin D can be transient. Indeed, vitamin D has several anabolic effects on osteoblasts, including stimulation of osteopontin and alkaline phosphatase. Therefore, vitamin D appears to stimulate bone resorption, which is necessary for bone remodeling and formation of new bone, but after longer periods of exposure and it may facilitate osteoblast proliferation and differentiation.

   Vitamin D and Periodontal Health Top

More recent studies showed significant associations between periodontal health and intake of vitamin D and calcium, [17] and that dietary supplementation with calcium and vitamin D may improve periodontal health, increase bone mineral density in the mandible and inhibit alveolar bone resorption [Figure 5]. [18],[19] In a recently published longitudinal study, Garcia et al. reported that calcium and vitamin D supplementation may reduce the severity of periodontal disease if used at doses higher than 800-1,000 IU daily and supported the rational for testing the potential beneficial role of vitamin D on periodontal disease in randomized clinical trials. They also noted that vitamin D, in addition to its role in bone and calcium homeostasis, acts as an anti-inflammatory agent because it inhibits immune cell cytokine expression and causes monocyte/macrophages to secrete molecules that have a strong antibiotic effect. Indeed, vitamin D deficiency may be linked to increased risk of infectious diseases. This suggests that vitamin D may be of benefit in the treatment of periodontitis, not only because of its direct effects on bone metabolism, but also because it may have antibiotic effects on periodontopathogens and inhibit inflammatory mediators that contribute to the periodontal destruction.
Figure 5: Vitamin D receptor polymorphism

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   VDR Polymorphism and Periodontal Disease Top

The associations of several VDR restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLPs) with several diseases namely secondary hyperparathyroidism in the renal failure, osteoporosis, cancer, nephrolithiasis, diabetes, and periodontal disease have been reported [Figure 5]. [20] The RFLPs, Bsml, Tru9I, TaqI, EcoRV and ApaI are located between exon 8 and 9 and may influence mRNA stability. The RFLP Fokl creates a start codon in exon 2, resulting in an alternative start site and an association between the Taql RFLP and periodontitis has been reported. [21] An association between the less frequent T allele and localized early onset periodontitis (aggressive periodontitis) in Caucasian subjects was reported. [22] The thymine phenotype allele (TT) genotype and the T allele are associated with chronic periodontitis in Japanese and Caucasian subjects, while the TT genotype and T allele are associated with early onset periodontitis (aggressive periodontitis) in Chinese subjects. A strong association between Chinese female patients with aggressive periodontitis and the TT genotype is suggested [23] while the TT genotype is associated with fewer occurrences on tuberculosis and chronic hepatitis B virus infection. The TT genotype and the T allele are associated with decreases in bone mineral density and the incidence of osteoporosis. These finding suggest that the TaqI RFLP is associated with both immune function and bone metabolism. Ethnic differences and different mechanisms in pathogenesis between aggressive periodontitis and chronic periodontitis may influence the results of TaqI RFLP analysis.

The BsmI RFLP in combination with other RFLPs are associated with early onset periodontitis and chronic periodontitis in Korean. [15],[24] The ApaI, BsmI and FokI RFLPs have been reported to confer elevated risk of severe chronic periodontitis in Japanese men. These RFLPs are associated with bone and mineral disease and the TaqI and FokI RFLPs are associated with increased cancer risk, such as prostate and breast malignancy. Further, studies are required to elucidate the functional relevance of VDR RFLPs and disease pathogenensis. An inverse association between the serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 concentrations and periodontal disease has been reported [26] and these findings indicate that 1, 25(OH) 2 D 3 plays a role in prevention of periodontal disease and that hypomorphic VDR alleles and reduced levels of 1,25(OH) 2 D 3 - I,25-dihydroxy vitamin D3 may be associated with the periodontal disease.

   Vitamin D Deficiency Top

Although there is no consensus regarding optimal serum 25(OH) D level, they are inversely associated with Para thormone (PTH) levels until 25(OH) D reaches 30-40 ng/mL, at which point PTH levels begin to level off. [25] Generally, 25(OH) D levels of <20 ng/mL is considered Vitamin D deficient, whereas the level of 21-29 ng/mL is considered insufficient [Table 1]. Vitamin D deficiency is now regarded as an epidemic, with 1 billion people world-wide estimated as Vitamin D deficient or insufficient.
Table 1: Vitamin D levels

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A recent study found that more than 70% of individuals aged ≥12 years have serum 25(OH) D levels <32 ng/mL. Usually, 25(OH) D deficiency results from lack of sun exposure or inadequate nutrition, and the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency was higher in women, elderly persons, and ethnic minorities.

   Treatment Strategy Top

In traditional, up to 95% of the body's vitamin D requirement comes from the synthesis in the epidermis on sun exposure, with the remainder ingested from dietary sources. The U.S. government's current recommendation for oral vitamin D is 200 IU daily for individual's age ≤50 years, 400 IU daily for individuals between age 50 years and 70 years, and 600 IU for those older than age 70 years. The most potent sources of vitamin D are sunlight (about 3,000 IU vitamin D3/5-10 min of mid-day, midyear exposure of arms and legs for a light-skinned Caucasian) or prescription oral supplements of 50,000 IU capsule of either vitamin D2 or D3 every 2 weeks.

Among foods, oily fish have the highest content of vitamin D3, which ranges from 100 to 1,000 IU/3.5 oz, [25] whereas other sources such as milk or orange juice fortified with vitamin D contain up to 100 IU per serving. As a general rule, every 100 IU vitamin D ingested daily increases the 25(OH) D level by about 1 ng/ml. Over-the-counter dietary supplements of vitamin D2 and D3 typically contain 400-5,000 IU/capsule. Oral supplementation with either vitamin D2 or D3 initially will increase vitamin D levels equally well, although the increases in serum 25(OH) D levels seem to persist longer after a bolus dose of vitamin D3 than D2. Treatment of vitamin D-deficient individuals should be initiated with 50,000 IU of vitamin D2 or D3 weekly for a period of 8-12 weeks. Once the initial repletion phase is complete, maintenance therapy can be continued in 1 of 3 ways: (1) 50,000 IU vitamin D2 or D3 every 2 weeks; (2) 1,000-2,000 IU vitamin D3 daily; and (3) sunlight exposure for 5-10 min for Caucasians (longer times required for people with increased skin pigmentation) between the hours of 10 AM to 3 PM (spring, summer, and fall) [Figure 6]. [26]
Figure 6: Treatment regimen

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   Conclusion Top

Although historically vitamin D has been associated with the regulation of musculoskeletal health recent research has indicated its cardiovascular, anti-cancer, immunomodulatory, and various systemic effects through VDR activation. The 1, 25(OH) 2 D3-VDR system plays a significant role in oral homeostasis and its dysfunction leads to periodontal disease. Hence, Vitamin D research should make important contributions to the understanding of periodontal diseases and may benefit in the treatment due to its direct effect on bone metabolism and its anti-inflammatory properties.

   References Top

1.Holick MF. Vitamin D deficiency. N Engl J Med 2007;357:266-81.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Zittermann A. Vitamin D and disease prevention with special reference to cardiovascular disease. Prog Biophys Mol Biol 2006;92:39-48.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Mora JR, Iwata M, von Andrian UH. Vitamin effects on the immune system: Vitamins A and D take centre stage. Nat Rev Immunol 2008;8:685-98.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Kamen DL, Tangpricha V. Vitamin D and molecular actions on the immune system: Modulation of innate and autoimmunity. J Mol Med (Berl) 2010;88:441-50.  Back to cited text no. 4
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8.Holtrop ME, Cox KA, Clark MB, Holick MF, Anast CS. 1, 25-dihydroxycholecalciferol stimulates osteoclasts in rat bones in the absence of parathyroid hormone. Endocrinology 1981;108:2293-301.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Wei S, Tanaka H, Kubo T, Ono T, Kanzaki S, Seino Y. Growth hormone increases serum 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D levels and decreases 24,25-dihydroxyvitamin D levels in children with growth hormone deficiency. Eur J Endocrinol 1997;136:45-51.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Merke J, Milde P, Lewicka S, Hügel U, Klaus G, Mangelsdorf DJ, et al. Identification and regulation of 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 receptor activity and biosynthesis of 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3. Studies in cultured bovine aortic endothelial cells and human dermal capillaries. J Clin Invest 1989;83:1903-15.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Zehnder D, Bland R, Chana RS, Wheeler DC, Howie AJ, Williams MC, et al. Synthesis of 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D (3) by human endothelial cells is regulated by inflammatory cytokines: A novel autocrine determinant of vascular cell adhesion. J Am Soc Nephrol 2002;13:621-9.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Meng H, Xu L, Li Q, Han J, Zhao Y. Determinants of host susceptibility in aggressive periodontitis. Periodontol 2000 2007;43:133-59.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Yoshihara A, Sugita N, Yamamoto K, Kobayashi T, Miyazaki H, Yoshi H. Analysis of vitamin D and Fcgamma receptor polymorphisms in Japanese patients with generalized early-onset periodontitis. J Dent Res 2001;80:2051-4.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.De Brito Júnior RB, Scarel-Caminaga RM, Trevilatto PC, de Souza AP, Barros SP. Polymorphisms in the vitamin D receptor gene are associated with periodontal disease. J Periodontol 2004;75:1090-5.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Lacey DL, Timms E, Tan HL, Kelley MJ, Dunstan CR, Burgess T, et al. Osteoprotegerin ligand is a cytokine that regulates osteoclast differentiation and activation. Cell 1998;93:165-76.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Kitazawa S, Kajimoto K, Kondo T, Kitazawa R. Vitamin D3 supports osteoclastogenesis via functional vitamin D response element of human RANKL gene promoter. J Cell Biochem 2003;89:771-7.  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Andresen C, Olson E, Nduaka C, Pero R, Bagi CM. Action of calciotropic hormones on bone metabolism - Role of Vitamin D3 in bone remodeling events. Am J Immunol 2006;2:40-51.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Cozzolino M, Lu Y, Finch J, Slatopolsky E, Dusso AS. p21WAF1 and TGF-alpha mediate parathyroid growth arrest by vitamin D and high calcium. Kidney Int 2001;60:2109-17.  Back to cited text no. 18
19.Zittermann A. Vitamin D in preventive medicine: Are we ignoring the evidence? Br J Nutr 2003;89:552-72.  Back to cited text no. 19
20.Holick MF. Vitamin D: Importance in the prevention of cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:362-71.  Back to cited text no. 20
21.Haussler MR, Whitfield GK, Haussler CA, Hsieh JC, Thompson PD, Selznick SH, et al. The nuclear vitamin D receptor: Biological and molecular regulatory properties revealed. J Bone Miner Res 1998;13:325-49.  Back to cited text no. 21
22.Valdivielso JM, Fernandez E. Vitamin D receptor polymorphisms and diseases. Clin Chim Acta 2006;371:1-12.  Back to cited text no. 22
23.Sun JL, Meng HX, Cao CF, Tachi Y, Shinohara M, Ueda M, et al. Relationship between vitamin D receptor gene polymorphism and periodontitis. J Periodontal Res 2002;37:263-7.  Back to cited text no. 23
24.Hennig BJ, Parkhill JM, Chapple IL, Heasman PA, Taylor JJ. Association of a vitamin D receptor gene polymorphism with localized early-onset periodontal diseases. J Periodontol 1999;70:1032-8.  Back to cited text no. 24
25.Chen TC, Chimeh F, Lu Z, Mathieu J, Person KS, Zhang A, et al. Factors that influence the cutaneous synthesis and dietary sources of vitamin D. Arch Biochem Biophys 2007;460:213-7.  Back to cited text no. 25
26.Heaney RP, Davies KM, Chen TC, Holick MF, Barger-Lux MJ. Human serum 25-hydroxycholecalciferol response to extended oral dosing with cholecalciferol. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;77:204-10.  Back to cited text no. 26


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

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