• What Does Vitamin E Do?

Microscopy & Microtechniques

What Does Vitamin E Do?

Nov 03 2020

New research from Oregon State University has offered insight into the critical role Vitamin E plays in the development of the brain and nervous system. Testing the theory on zebrafish, the team found that Vitamin E deficiencies led to significant embryotic malformations.   

“This is totally amazing - the brain is absolutely physically distorted by not having enough vitamin E," says Maret Traber, who led the study and is a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The importance of alpha-tocopherol

Also known as alpha-tocopherol, Vitamin E is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also a key nutrient that supports the health of the blood, skin and brain. Now, Traber and her team have uncovered new evidence that could reveal the role Vitamin E plays in embryo development. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports and offer an exciting new understanding of the importance of the micronutrient.

“Why does an embryo need vitamin E? We've been chasing that for a long time," says Traber. "With this newest study we actually started taking pictures so we could visualise: Where is the brain? Where is the brain forming? How does vitamin E fit into this picture?”

The danger of deficiencies

Not only do zebrafish develop from fertilised eggs to fully-grown fish in just five days, they also share similar molecular, genetic and cellular profiles to humans. This made them prime candidates for the Oregon State University study. After analysing both normal and Vitamin E deficient animals, the team noticed crest cell activity was compromised in females lacking in the micronutrient. This led to embryo malformations, with a particular focus on the brain and nervous system.

"Acting as stem cells, the crest cells are important for the brain and spinal cord and also go on to be the cells of about 10 different organ systems including the heart and liver," Traber said. "By having those cells get into trouble with vitamin E deficiency, basically the entire embryo formation is dysregulated. It is no wonder we see embryo death with vitamin E deficiency."

Moving forward, Traber hopes to dive deeper into what specific genes Vitamin E deficiencies impact. “Now we're at the point where we're so close being able to say exactly what's wrong when there isn't enough vitamin E but at the same time we're very far away because we haven't found what are the genes that are changing," adds Traber.

For more up-to-the-minute insight into the latest science and technology news, don’t miss ‘The intracellular world in 3D and in colour: developments at the biological cryo-imaging beamline B24 at the UK’s national synchrotron, Diamond Light Source.’

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