α-Tocopherol is the principal source of vitamin E, an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy brain function. Infant formula is routinely supplemented with synthetic α-tocopherol, a racaemic mixture of eight stereoisomers with less bioactivity than the natural stereoisomer RRR-α-tocopherol. α-Tocopherol stereoisomer profiles have not been previously reported in the human brain. In the present study, we analysed total α-tocopherol and α-tocopherol stereoisomers in the frontal cortex (FC), hippocampus (HPC) and visual cortex (VC) of infants (n 36) who died of sudden infant death syndrome or other conditions. RRR-α-tocopherol was the predominant stereoisomer in all brain regions (P<0·0001) and samples, despite a large intra-decedent range in total α-tocopherol (5–17 μg/g). Mean RRR-α-tocopherol concentrations in FC, HPC and VC were 10·5, 6·8 and 5·5 μg/g, respectively. In contrast, mean levels of the synthetic stereoisomers were RRS, 1–1·5; RSR, 0·8–1·0; RSS, 0·7–0·9; and Σ2S 0·2–0·3 μg/g. Samples from all but two decedents contained measurable levels of the synthetic stereoisomers, but the intra-decedent variation was large. The ratio of RRR:the sum of the synthetic 2R stereoisomers (RRS+RSR+RSS) averaged 2·5, 2·3 and 2·4 in FC, HPC and VC, respectively, and ranged from 1 to at least 4·7, indicating that infant brain discriminates against synthetic 2R stereoisomers in favour of RRR. These findings reveal that RRR-α-tocopherol is the predominant stereoisomer in infant brain. These data also indicate that the infant brain discriminates against the synthetic 2R stereoisomers, but is unable to do so completely. On the basis of these findings, investigation into the impact of α-tocopherol stereoisomers on neurodevelopment is warranted.