Preterm infants fed formulas with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) during the interval equivalent to the last intrauterine trimester and beyond have higher circulating DHA and transiently higher visual acuity compared with infants fed formulas containing linolenic acid. In term infants several nonrandomized studies of infants receiving DHA from human milk suggest a relationship between DHA status and acuity, but the evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship is mixed. In the present study, term infants were randomly assigned to a standard term formula (n = 20) or the same formula with egg yolk lecithin to provide DHA (0.1%) and arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6, 0.43%) (n = 19) at levels reported in milk of American women. A third group of infants was breast fed for > or = 3 mo (n = 19). Grating visual acuity (Teller Acuity Card procedure) and plasma and red blood cell (RBC) phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) DHA and AA were determined at corrected ages of 2, 4, 6, 9 (acuity only), and 12 mo past term = 40 wk postmenstrual age (PMA). At 2 mo breast-fed infants and infants fed the supplemented formula had higher grating acuity than term infants fed standard formula. As in preterm infants, the increase was transient. Plasma PC DHA and AA and RBC PE AA increased by 2 mo in supplemented infants, but RBC PE DHA in supplemented infants was not higher than in controls until 4 mo and beyond. Despite normal intrauterine accumulation of DHA and AA, infants fed formula with 2% linolenic acid and 0.1% DHA had better 2-mo visual acuity than infants fed formula with 2% linolenic acid.