Docosahexaenoic acid and visual functioning in preterm infants: A review

Carly Molloy, Lex Doyle, Maria Makrides, Peter Anderson

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    36 Citations (Scopus)


    Preterm children are at risk for a number of visual impairments which can be important for a range of other more complex visuocognitive tasks reliant on visual information. Despite the relatively high incidence of visual impairments in this group there are no good predictors that would allow early identification of those at risk for adverse outcomes. Several lines of evidence suggest that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation for preterm infants may improve outcomes in this area. For example, diets deficient in the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid DHA have been shown to reduce its concentration in the cerebral cortex and retina, which interferes with physiological processes important for cognition and visual functioning. Further, various studies with pregnant and lactating women, as well as formula-fed infants, have demonstrated a general trend that supplementation with dietary DHA is associated with better childhood outcomes on tests of visual and cognitive development over the first year of life. However, research to date has several methodological limitations, including concentrations of DHA supplementation that have been too low to emulate the in utero accretion of DHA, using single measures of visual acuity to make generalised assumptions about the entire visual system, and little attempt to match what we know about inadequate DHA and structural ramifications with how specific functions may be affected. The objective of this review is to consider the role of DHA in the context of visual processing with a specific emphasis on preterm infants and to illustrate how future research may benefit from marrying what we know about structural consequences to inadequate DHA with functional outcomes that likely have far-reaching ramifications. Factors worth considering for clinical neuropsychological evaluation are also discussed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)425-437
    Number of pages13
    JournalNeuropsychology Review
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


    • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
    • Dorsal stream
    • Preterm infants
    • Retina
    • Visual processing


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