Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 41–73

Vitamin neurotoxicity

  • S. Robert Snodgrass


Vitamins contain reactive functional groups necessary to their established roles as coenzymes and reducing agents. Their reactive potential may produce injury if vitamin concentration, distribution, or metabolism is altered. However, identification of vitamin toxicity has been difficult. The only well-established human vitamin neurotoxic effects are those due to hypervitaminosis A (pseudotumor cerebri) and pyridoxine (sensory neuropathy). In each case, the neurological effects of vitamin deficiency and vitamin excess are similar. Closely related to the neurological symptoms of hypervitaminosis A are symptoms including headache, pseudotumor cerebri, and embryotoxic effects reported in patients given vitamin A analogs or retinoids. Most tissues contain retinoic acid (RA) and vitamin D receptors, members of a steroid receptor superfamily known to regulate development and gene expression. Vitamin D3 effects on central nervous system (CNS) gene expression are predictable, in addition to the indirect effects owing to its influence on calcium and phosphorus homeostasis. Folates and thiamine cause seizures and excitation when administered in high dosage directly into the brain or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of experimental animals but have rarely been reported to cause human neurotoxicity, although fatal reactions to iv thiamine are well known. Ascorbic acid influences CNS function after peripheral administration and influences brain cell differentiation and 2-deoxyglucose accumulation by cultured glial cells. Biotin influences gene expression in animals that are not vitamin-deficient and alters astrocyte glucose utilization.

The multiple enzymes and binding proteins involved in regeneration of retinal vitamin A illustrate the complexity of vitamin processing in the body. Vitamin A toxicity is also a good general model of vitamin neurotoxicity, because it shows the importance of the ratio of vitamin and vitamin-binding proteins in producing vitamin toxicity and of CNS permeability barriers. Because vitamin A and analogs enter the CNS better than most vitamins, and because retinoids have many effects on enzyme activity and gene expression, Vitamin A neurotoxicity is more likely than that of most, perhaps all other vitamins. Megadose vitamin therapy may cause injury that is confused with disease symptoms. High vitamin intake is more hazardous to peripheral organs than to the nervous system, because CNS vitamin entry is restricted. Vitamin administration into the brain or CSF, recommended in certain disease states, is hazardous and best avoided. The lack of controlled trials prevents us from defining the lowest human neurotoxic dose of any vitamin. Large differences in individual susceptibility to vitamin neurotoxicity probably exist, and ordinary vitamin doses may harm occasional patients with genetic disorders. Several vitamins, including A, D3, ascorbate, biotin, folates, pyridoxine, and thiamine have been found to have noncoenzyme effects that indicate neurotoxic potential. Increasing numbers of vitamins are being reported to alter gene expression by noncoenzyme mechanisms. Data are presented showing that several vitamins (biotin, folic acid, pyridoxal, and RA) increase45Ca influx in cultured neural cells. These effects on calcium permeability correlate with neurotoxic potential.

Index Entries

Vitamins vitamin A ascorbic acid blood-brain barrier intrathecal drug administration neurotoxicity calcium pyridoxine 


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Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Robert Snodgrass
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Departments of Neurology and PediatricsUniversity of Southern California School of MedicineLos Angeles
  2. 2.Neurology Research LaboratoryChildrens HospitalLos Angeles

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