BACKGROUND: Prenatal micronutrient deficiency has been linked to later development of schizophrenia among offspring; however, no study has specifically investigated the association between vitamin A and this disorder. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient which is required by the early embryo and fetus for gene expression and regulation, cell differentiation, proliferation and migration. Previous work suggests that vitamin A deficiency in the second trimester may be particularly relevant to the etiopathogenesis of neurobehavioral phenotypes some of which are observed in schizophrenia. METHODS: We examined whether low maternal vitamin A levels in the second trimester are associated with the risk of schizophrenia and other schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) in the Prenatal Determinants of Schizophrenia study; third trimester vitamin A levels were also examined in relation to SSD. The cases were derived from a population-based birth cohort; all cohort members belonged to a prepaid health plan. Archived maternal serum samples were assayed for vitamin A in cases (N=55) and up to 2 controls per case (N=106) matched on length of membership in the health plan, date of birth (+/-28days), sex, and gestational timing and availability of archived maternal sera. RESULTS: For the second trimester, low maternal vitamin A, defined as values in the lowest tertile of the distribution among controls, was associated with a greater than threefold increased risk of SSD, adjusting for maternal education and age (OR=3.04, 95% CI=1.06, 8.79, p=.039). No association between third trimester maternal vitamin A and SSD was observed. CONCLUSIONS: Although further investigations are warranted, this is the first birth cohort study to our knowledge to report an association between low maternal vitamin A levels and SSD among offspring.