Vitamin A improves the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders and decreases 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT): A pilot study

Brain Res Bull. 2018 Mar;137:35-40. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2017.11.001. Epub 2017 Nov 6.


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are complicated neurodevelopmental disorders. Many studies have demonstrated that children with autism have multiple nutritional deficiencies and increased serum 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) levels. In our previous study, 77.9% of autistic children were found to have vitamin A deficiency, and the concentration of vitamin A was negatively associated with the CARS score. In the present study, we sought to test whether vitamin A supplementation could improve autistic symptoms and decrease serum 5-HT levels. The DSM-V criteria and CARS score were used for symptom description and symptom assessment of the patients, respectively, before and after vitamin A supplementation (VAS). Serum retinol and 5-HT levels, mRNA levels of RAR α, β, and γ and TpH 1 expression were detected in autistic children before and after VAS and in normal children. Serum retinol levels in children with ASD were significantly lower than in control children. Serum 5-HT levels in children with ASD were higher than in control children, which were correlated with symptom severity of children with autism. After VA supplementation, the children with ASD exhibited significant improvement in autism symptoms. Serum retinol concentrations of children with ASD were significantly increased, and serum 5-HT levels were decreased. Moreover, statistically significant changes were observed in mRNA expression levels of RAR α, RAR γ and TpH 1 after VAS compared to baseline. This study suggested that VA supplementation may improve symptoms and reduce 5-HT levels in children with ASD, indicating that VA supplementation is a reasonable therapy at least for a subset of children with autism.

Keywords: 5-Hydroxytryptamine (5-HT); Autism spectrum disorders (ASD); Retinoic acid receptors (RARs); Tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (TpH 1); Vitamin A (VA).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / blood*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diet therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / metabolism
  • Serotonin / blood*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tryptophan Hydroxylase / metabolism
  • Vitamin A / administration & dosage*
  • Vitamin A / blood


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Vitamin A
  • Serotonin
  • TPH1 protein, human
  • Tryptophan Hydroxylase