Vitamin A and Retinoic Acid in Cognition and Cognitive Disease

Marta U Wołoszynowska-Fraser, Azita Kouchmeshky, Peter McCaffery

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65 Citations (Scopus)


The history of vitamin A goes back over one hundred years, but our realization of its importance for the brain and cognition is much more recent. The brain is more efficient than other target tissues at converting vitamin A to retinoic acid (RA), which activates retinoic acid receptors (RARs). RARs regulate transcription, but their function in the cytoplasm to control nongenomic actions is also crucial. Controlled synthesis of RA is essential for regulating synaptic plasticity in regions of the brain involved in learning and memory, such as the hippocampus. Vitamin A deficiency results in a deterioration of these functions, and failure of RA signaling is perhaps associated with normal cognitive decline with age as well as with Alzheimer's disease. Further, several psychiatric and developmental disorders that disrupt cognition are also linked with vitamin A and point to their possible treatment with vitamin A or RA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-272
Number of pages26
JournalAnnual Review of Nutrition
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

Support was received from a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) grant (BB/P004806/1) and the National Health Service (NHS) Grampian Endowments. M.U.W.-F. is currently supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging.


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Neuroplasticity
  • aging
  • autism
  • hippocampus
  • schizophrenia


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