The CNS and the retina are enriched in long chain polyunsaturated (LCP) fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) and arachidonic acid (AA, 20:4n-6), which are present in human milk but not in most infant formulas. In the present study of 134 formula-fed and 63 breast-fed infants, we prospectively evaluated whether providing a source of DHA and AA or DHA alone in formula would increase red blood cell (RBC) phospholipid levels of these fatty acids, enhance visual function, or affect growth during the first year. Healthy term infants < 7 d old were randomized to be fed formulas containing linoleic acid (approximately 10% kcal) and alpha-linolenic acid (approximately 1% kcal) plus (1) no added LCP fatty acids (control formula), (2) DHA (0.12 wt% fatty acids) and AA (0.43 wt%) from egg yolk phospholipid (AA + DHA formula), or (3) DHA (0.2 wt%) from fish oil (DHA formula). A breast-fed group was studied concurrently and permitted formula supplementation after 3 mo. Visual acuity was measured using both the acuity card procedure and a visual evoked potential method at 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 mo. Infants fed the control formula had 10-40% lower RBC levels of DHA and AA than infants in the breast-fed group. Infants fed the AA + DHA formula had levels of both LCP within approximately 10% of the values for infants in the breast-fed group, and infants fed the DHA formula had 25-55% higher DHA levels and 15-40% lower AA levels. There were no differences in growth or in visual function during this 12-mo feeding study.