A study in mice suggests that vitamin A plays an important role in learning and memory, a finding that researchers say underscores concerns about vitamin A deficiency in some 190 million children throughout the world.
Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and elsewhere report in the December issue of the journal Neuron that their evidence shows that vitamin A is essential not only for proper development of the nervous system in a developing embryo, but also for brain function throughout life.
In studies on mice, the researchers learned that certain cell receptors for vitamin A also played a role in learning and memory. When they bred a group of mice that lacked the genes for these two specific receptors, they found that the mice performed poorly on tests of spatial ability and memory.
The researchers believe that their evidence suggests that "vitamin A is a type of molecular key that unlocks one of the most powerful functions of the human brain," namely learning, according to a press statement by Ronald Evans, Salk professor and senior author of the study.
It is too early to suggest whether or not vitamin A supplements could aid older patients suffering from memory problems related to dementia, a spokeswoman for the institute told Reuters Health. The research does not suggest that boosting amounts of vitamin A can improve an individual's memory or learning ability, only that complete absence of vitamin A is detrimental to brain function.
But the researchers' findings will probably lead to further research on the role of vitamin A in learning and memory.
The report notes that nearly 190 million children around the world have vitamin A deficiency, which puts them at risk for numerous health problems, including stunted growth and blindness.