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1.  Gene–environment interactions in the causation of neural tube defects: folate deficiency increases susceptibility conferred by loss of Pax3 function 
Human Molecular Genetics  2008;17(23):3675-3685.
Risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) is determined by genetic and environmental factors, among which folate status appears to play a key role. However, the precise nature of the link between low folate status and NTDs is poorly understood, and it remains unclear how folic acid prevents NTDs. We investigated the effect of folate level on risk of NTDs in splotch (Sp2H) mice, which carry a mutation in Pax3. Dietary folate restriction results in reduced maternal blood folate, elevated plasma homocysteine and reduced embryonic folate content. Folate deficiency does not cause NTDs in wild-type mice, but causes a significant increase in cranial NTDs among Sp2H embryos, demonstrating a gene–environment interaction. Control treatments, in which intermediate levels of folate are supplied, suggest that NTD risk is related to embryonic folate concentration, not maternal blood folate concentration. Notably, the effect of folate deficiency appears more deleterious in female embryos than males, since defects are not prevented by exogenous folic acid. Folate-deficient embryos exhibit developmental delay and growth retardation. However, folate content normalized to protein content is appropriate for developmental stage, suggesting that folate availability places a tight limit on growth and development. Folate-deficient embryos also exhibit a reduced ratio of s-adenosylmethionine (SAM) to s-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH). This could indicate inhibition of the methylation cycle, but we did not detect any diminution in global DNA methylation, in contrast to embryos in which the methylation cycle was specifically inhibited. Hence, folate deficiency increases the risk of NTDs in genetically predisposed splotch embryos, probably via embryonic growth retardation.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddn262
PMCID: PMC2581426  PMID: 18753144
2.  Maternal and Infant Gene-Folate Interactions and the Risk of Neural Tube Defects 
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common, serious malformations with a complex etiology that suggests involvement of both genetic and environmental factors. The authors evaluated maternal or offspring folate-related gene variants and interactions between the gene variants and maternal intake of folates on the risk of NTDs in their offspring. A case-control study was conducted on mothers and/or their fetuses and infants who were born in California from 1999–2003 with an NTD (cases n = 222, including 24 mother-infant pairs) or without a major malformation (controls n = 454, including 186 mother-infant pairs). Maternal intake of folates was assessed by food frequency questionnaire and genotyping was performed on samples from mothers and infants. For mothers in the lowest folate-intake group, risk of NTDs in offspring was significantly decreased for maternal MTHFR SNPs rs1476413, rs1801131 and rs1801133 (odds ratio (OR) = 0.55, 80% confidence interval (CI): 0.20, 1.48; OR = 0.58, 80% CI: 0.24, 1.43; OR = 0.69, 80% CI: 0.41, 1.17, respectively), and TYMS SNPs rs502396 and rs699517 (OR= 0.91, 80% CI: 0.53, 1.56; OR = 0.70, 80% CI: 0.38, 1.29). A gene-only effect was observed for maternal SHMT1 SNP rs669340 (OR = 0.69, 95% CI: 0.49, 0.96). When there was low maternal folate intake, risk of NTDs was significantly increased for infant MTHFD1 SNPs rs2236224, rs2236225 and rs11627387 (OR = 1.58, 80% CI: 0.99, 2.51; OR = 1.53, 80% CI: 0.95, 2.47; OR = 4.25, 80% CI: 2.33, 7.75, respectively) and SHMT1 SNP rs12939757 (OR = 2.01, 80% CI: 1.20, 3.37), but decreased for TYMS SNP rs2847153 (OR = 0.73, 80% CI: 0.37, 1.45). Although power to detect interaction effects was low for this birth defects association study, the gene-folate interactions observed in this study represent preliminary findings that will be useful for informing future studies on the complex etiology of NTDs.
doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.35552
PMCID: PMC3448841  PMID: 22903727
Congenital Abnormalities; Folic Acid; Genetic Association Studies; Molecular Epidemiology; Neural Tube Defects; Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena; Nervous System Malformations; Nutrigenomics
3.  Evaluation of common genetic variants in 82 candidate genes as risk factors for neural tube defects 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:62.
Background
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common birth defects (~1 in 1000 pregnancies in the US and Europe) that have complex origins, including environmental and genetic factors. A low level of maternal folate is one well-established risk factor, with maternal periconceptional folic acid supplementation reducing the occurrence of NTD pregnancies by 50-70%. Gene variants in the folate metabolic pathway (e.g., MTHFR rs1801133 (677 C > T) and MTHFD1 rs2236225 (R653Q)) have been found to increase NTD risk. We hypothesized that variants in additional folate/B12 pathway genes contribute to NTD risk.
Methods
A tagSNP approach was used to screen common variation in 82 candidate genes selected from the folate/B12 pathway and NTD mouse models. We initially genotyped polymorphisms in 320 Irish triads (NTD cases and their parents), including 301 cases and 341 Irish controls to perform case–control and family based association tests. Significantly associated polymorphisms were genotyped in a secondary set of 250 families that included 229 cases and 658 controls. The combined results for 1441 SNPs were used in a joint analysis to test for case and maternal effects.
Results
Nearly 70 SNPs in 30 genes were found to be associated with NTDs at the p < 0.01 level. The ten strongest association signals (p-value range: 0.0003–0.0023) were found in nine genes (MFTC, CDKN2A, ADA, PEMT, CUBN, GART, DNMT3A, MTHFD1 and T (Brachyury)) and included the known NTD risk factor MTHFD1 R653Q (rs2236225). The single strongest signal was observed in a new candidate, MFTC rs17803441 (OR = 1.61 [1.23-2.08], p = 0.0003 for the minor allele). Though nominally significant, these associations did not remain significant after correction for multiple hypothesis testing.
Conclusions
To our knowledge, with respect to sample size and scope of evaluation of candidate polymorphisms, this is the largest NTD genetic association study reported to date. The scale of the study and the stringency of correction are likely to have contributed to real associations failing to survive correction. We have produced a ranked list of variants with the strongest association signals. Variants in the highest rank of associations are likely to include true associations and should be high priority candidates for further study of NTD risk.
doi:10.1186/1471-2350-13-62
PMCID: PMC3458983  PMID: 22856873
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Folic acid; One-carbon metabolism; Candidate gene
4.  Construction of a High Resolution Linkage Disequilibrium Map to Evaluate Common Genetic Variation in TP53 and Neural Tube Defect Risk in an Irish Population 
Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). While periconceptional folic acid supplementation is known to significantly reduce the risk of NTDs, folate metabolic pathway related factors do not account for all NTDs. Evidence from mouse models indicates that the tumor protein p53 (TP53) is involved in implantation and normal neural tube development. To determine whether genetic variation in the TP53 might contribute to NTD risk in humans, we constructed a high resolution linkage disequilibrium (LD) map of the TP53 genomic region based on genotyping 21 markers in an Irish population. We found that nine of these variants can be used to capture the majority of common variation in the TP53 genomic region. In contrast, the 3-marker haplotype commonly reported in the TP53 literature offers limited coverage of the variation in the gene. We used the expanded set of polymorphisms to measure the influence of TP53 on NTDs using both case-control and family-based tests of association. We also assayed a functional variant in the p53 regulator MDM2 (rs2279744). Alleles of three noncoding TP53 markers were associated with NTD risk. A case effect was seen with the GG genotype of rs1625895 in intron 6 (OR = 1.37 [1.04-1.79], p=0.02). A maternal effect was seen with the 135/135 genotype of the intron 1 VNTR (OR = 1.86 [1.16-2.96], p=0.01) and the TT genotype of rs1614984 (RR = 0.58 [0.37-0.91], p=0.02). As multiple comparisons were made, these cannot be considered definitive positive findings and additional investigation is required.
doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.32504
PMCID: PMC2836760  PMID: 18798306
neural tube defects; spina bifida; p53; TP53; MDM2; linkage disequilibrium
5.  Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase mutations, a genetic cause for familial recurrent neural tube defects 
Indian Journal of Human Genetics  2012;18(1):122-124.
Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene mutations have been implicated as risk factors for neural tube defects (NTDs). The best-characterized MTHFR genetic mutation 677C→T is associated with a 2–4 fold increased risk of NTD if patient is homozygous for this mutation. This risk factor is modulated by folate levels in the body. A second mutation in the MTHFR gene is an A→C transition at position 1298. The 1298A→C mutation is also a risk factor for NTD, but with a smaller relative risk than 677C→T mutation. Under conditions of low folate intake or high folate requirements, such as pregnancy, this mutation could become of clinical importance. We present a case report with MTHFR genetic mutation, who presented with recurrent familial pregnancy losses due to anencephaly/NTDs.
doi:10.4103/0971-6866.96680
PMCID: PMC3385168  PMID: 22754237
Folate; methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene mutation; neural tube defects
6.  Diabetes and Obesity-Related Genes and the Risk of Neural Tube Defects in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study 
American Journal of Epidemiology  2012;176(12):1101-1109.
Few studies have evaluated genetic susceptibility related to diabetes and obesity as a risk factor for neural tube defects (NTDs). The authors investigated 23 single nucleotide polymorphisms among 9 genes (ADRB3, ENPP1, FTO, LEP, PPARG, PPARGC1A, SLC2A2, TCF7L2, and UCP2) associated with type 2 diabetes or obesity. Samples were obtained from 737 NTD case-parent triads included in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study during 1999–2007. Log-linear models were used to evaluate maternal and offspring genetic effects. After application of the false discovery rate, there were 5 significant maternal genetic effects. The less common alleles at the 4 FTO single nucleotide polymorphisms showed a reduction of NTD risk (for rs1421085, relative risk (RR) = 0.73 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.62, 0.87); for rs8050136, RR = 0.79 (95% CI: 0.67, 0.93); for rs9939609, RR = 0.79 (95% CI: 0.67, 0.94); and for rs17187449, RR = 0.80 (95% CI: 0.68, 0.95)). Additionally, maternal LEP rs2071045 (RR = 1.31, 95% CI: 1.08, 1.60) and offspring UCP2 rs660339 (RR = 1.32, 95% CI: 1.06, 1.64) were associated with NTD risk. Furthermore, the maternal genotype for TCF7L2 rs3814573 suggested an increased NTD risk among obese women. These findings indicate that maternal genetic variants associated with glucose homeostasis may modify the risk of having an NTD-affected pregnancy.
doi:10.1093/aje/kws190
PMCID: PMC3571234  PMID: 23132673
case-parent triads; diabetes; genetics; neural tube defects; obesity
7.  Whole genomewide linkage screen for neural tube defects reveals regions of interest on chromosomes 7 and 10 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2005;42(12):940-946.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are the second most common birth defects (1 in 1000 live births) in the world. Periconceptional maternal folate supplementation reduces NTD risk by 50–70%; however, studies of folate related and other developmental genes in humans have failed to definitively identify a major causal gene for NTD. The aetiology of NTDs remains unknown and both genetic and environmental factors are implicated. We present findings from a microsatellite based screen of 44 multiplex pedigrees ascertained through the NTD Collaborative Group. For the linkage analysis, we defined our phenotype narrowly by considering individuals with a lumbosacral level myelomeningocele as affected, then we expanded the phenotype to include all types of NTDs. Two point parametric analyses were performed using VITESSE and HOMOG. Multipoint parametric and nonparametric analyses were performed using ALLEGRO. Initial results identified chromosomes 7 and 10, both with maximum parametric multipoint lod scores (Mlod) >2.0. Chromosome 7 produced the highest score in the 24 cM interval between D7S3056 and D7S3051 (parametric Mlod 2.45; nonparametric Mlod 1.89). Further investigation demonstrated that results on chromosome 7 were being primarily driven by a single large pedigree (parametric Mlod 2.40). When this family was removed from analysis, chromosome 10 was the most interesting region, with a peak Mlod of 2.25 at D10S1731. Based on mouse human synteny, two candidate genes (Meox2, Twist1) were identified on chromosome 7. A review of public databases revealed three biologically plausible candidates (FGFR2, GFRA1, Pax2) on chromosome 10. The results from this screen provide valuable positional data for prioritisation of candidate gene assessment in future studies of NTDs.
doi:10.1136/jmg.2005.031658
PMCID: PMC1735960  PMID: 15831595
8.  Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase and transcobalamin genetic polymorphisms in human spontaneous abortion: biological and clinical implications 
The pathogenesis of human spontaneous abortion involves a complex interaction of several genetic and environmental factors. The firm association between increased homocysteine concentration and neural tube defects (NTD) has led to the hypothesis that high concentrations of homocysteine might be embryotoxic and lead to decreased fetal viability. There are several genetic polymorphisms that are associated with defects in folate- and vitamin B12-dependent homocysteine metabolism. The methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) 677C>T and 1298A>C polymorphisms cause elevated homocysteine concentration and are associated with an increased risk of NTD. Additionally, low concentration of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) or transcobalamin that delivers vitamin B12 to the cells of the body leads to hyperhomocysteinemia and is associated with NTD. This effect involves the transcobalamin (TC) 776C>G polymorphism. Importantly, the biochemical consequences of these polymorphisms can be modified by folate and vitamin B12 supplementation. In this review, I focus on recent studies on the role of hyperhomocysteinemia-associated polymorphisms in the pathogenesis of human spontaneous abortion and discuss the possibility that periconceptional supplementation with folate and vitamin B12 might lower the incidence of miscarriage in women planning a pregnancy.
doi:10.1186/1477-7827-2-7
PMCID: PMC356929  PMID: 14969589
9.  Evaluation of 64 Candidate Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects in a Large Irish Study Population 
Individual studies of the genetics of neural tube defects (NTDs) contain results on a small number of genes in each report. To identify genetic risk factors for NTDs, we evaluated potentially functional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that are biologically plausible risk factors for NTDs but that have never been investigated for an association with NTDs, examined SNPs that previously showed no association with NTDs in published studies, and tried to confirm previously reported associations in folate-related and non-folate-related genes. We investigated 64 SNPs in 34 genes for association with spina bifida in up to 558 case-families (520 cases, 507 mothers, 457 fathers) and 994 controls in Ireland. Case-control and mother-control comparisons of genotype frequencies, tests of transmission disequilibrium, and log-linear regression models were used to calculate effect estimates. Spina bifida was associated with over-transmission of the LEPR (leptin receptor) rs1805134 minor C allele (genotype relative risk (GRR): 1.5; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.0, 2.1; P = 0.0264) and the COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase) rs737865 major T allele (GRR: 1.4; 95% CI: 1.1, 2.0; P = 0.0206). After correcting for multiple comparisons, these individual test P-values exceeded 0.05. Consistent with previous reports, spina bifida was associated with MTHFR 677C>T, T (Brachyury) rs3127334, LEPR K109R, and PDGFRA promoter haplotype combinations. The associations between LEPR SNPs and spina bifida suggest a possible mechanism for the finding that obesity is a NTD risk factor. The association between a variant in COMT and spina bifida implicates methylation and epigenetics in NTDs.
doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.33755
PMCID: PMC3503244  PMID: 21204206
congenital abnormalities; folic acid; neural tube defects; single nucleotide polymorphism; spina bifida
10.  The Genetic Background of the Curly Tail Strain Confers Susceptibility to Folate-Deficiency-Induced Exencephaly 
BACKGROUND: Suboptimal maternal folate status is considered a risk factor for neural tube defects (NTDs). However, the relationship between dietary folate status and risk of NTDs appears complex, as experimentally induced folate deficiency is insufficient to cause NTDs in nonmutant mice. In contrast, folate deficiency can exacerbate the effect of an NTD-causing mutation, as in splotch mice. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether folate deficiency can induce NTDs in mice with a permissive genetic background which do not normally exhibit defects. METHODS: Folate deficiency was induced in curly tail and genetically matched wild-type mice, and we analyzed the effect on maternal folate status, embryonic growth and development, and frequency of NTDs. RESULTS: Folate-deficient diets resulted in reduced maternal blood folate, elevated homocysteine, and a diminished embryonic folate content. Folate deficiency had a deleterious effect on reproductive success, resulting in smaller litter sizes and an increased rate of resorption. Notably, folate deficiency caused a similar-sized, statistically significant increase in the frequency of cranial NTDs among both curly tail (Grhl3 mutant) embryos and background-matched embryos that are wild type for Grhl3. The latter do not exhibit NTDs under normal dietary conditions. Maternal supplementation with myo-inositol reduced the incidence of NTDs in the folate-deficient wild-type strain. CONCLUSIONS: Dietary folate deficiency can induce cranial NTDs in nonmutant mice with a permissive genetic background, a situation that likely parallels gene-nutrient interactions in human NTDs. Our findings suggest that inositol supplementation may ameliorate NTDs resulting from insufficient dietary folate. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20632
PMCID: PMC3071937  PMID: 19824061
neural tube defects; folic acid; inositol; exencephaly; curly tail; diet
11.  A Genetic Signature of Spina Bifida Risk from Pathway-Informed Comprehensive Gene-Variant Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e28408.
Despite compelling epidemiological evidence that folic acid supplements reduce the frequency of neural tube defects (NTDs) in newborns, common variant association studies with folate metabolism genes have failed to explain the majority of NTD risk. The contribution of rare alleles as well as genetic interactions within the folate pathway have not been extensively studied in the context of NTDs. Thus, we sequenced the exons in 31 folate-related genes in a 480-member NTD case-control population to identify the full spectrum of allelic variation and determine whether rare alleles or obvious genetic interactions within this pathway affect NTD risk. We constructed a pathway model, predetermined independent of the data, which grouped genes into coherent sets reflecting the distinct metabolic compartments in the folate/one-carbon pathway (purine synthesis, pyrimidine synthesis, and homocysteine recycling to methionine). By integrating multiple variants based on these groupings, we uncovered two provocative, complex genetic risk signatures. Interestingly, these signatures differed by race/ethnicity: a Hispanic risk profile pointed to alterations in purine biosynthesis, whereas that in non-Hispanic whites implicated homocysteine metabolism. In contrast, parallel analyses that focused on individual alleles, or individual genes, as the units by which to assign risk revealed no compelling associations. These results suggest that the ability to layer pathway relationships onto clinical variant data can be uniquely informative for identifying genetic risk as well as for generating mechanistic hypotheses. Furthermore, the identification of ethnic-specific risk signatures for spina bifida resonated with epidemiological data suggesting that the underlying pathogenesis may differ between Hispanic and non-Hispanic groups.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028408
PMCID: PMC3227667  PMID: 22140583
12.  PCMT1 gene polymorphisms, maternal folate metabolism, and neural tube defects: a case–control study in a population with relatively low folate intake 
Genes & Nutrition  2013;8(6):581-587.
The PCMT1 gene encodes the protein repair enzyme protein-l-isoaspartate (d-aspartate) O-methyltransferase, which is known to protect certain neural cells against Bax-induced apoptosis. Previous studies have produced inconsistent results regarding the effects of PCMT1 (rs4816 and rs4552) polymorphisms on neural tube defects (NTDs). Reduced maternal plasma folate levels and/or elevated homocysteine (Hcy) levels are considered to be risk factors for NTDs. In order to clarify the key factors contributing to the apparent discrepancy and investigate gene–environment interaction, we conducted a case–control study including 121 cases and 146 matched controls to investigate the association between the two PCMT1 polymorphisms in fetuses and the risk of NTDs in the Chinese population of Lvliang, which has low folate intake. Maternal plasma folate and Hcy levels were also measured, and the interaction between fetal PCMT1 gene status and maternal folate metabolites was assessed. Maternal plasma folate concentrations in the NTD group were lower than in controls (10.23 vs. 13.08 nmol/L, adjusted P = 0.059), and Hcy concentrations were significantly higher (14.46 vs. 11.65 μmol/L, adjusted P = 0.026). Fetuses carrying the rs4816 AG + GG genotype, combined with higher maternal plasma Hcy, had a 6.46-fold (95 % CI 1.15–36.46) increased risk of anencephaly. The results of this study imply that the fetal PCMT1 rs4816 polymorphism may play only a weak role in NTD formation and that gene–environment interactions might be more significant.
doi:10.1007/s12263-013-0355-5
PMCID: PMC3824833  PMID: 23918616
Association study; PCMT1; Homocysteine; Neural tube defect; Gene–environment interaction
13.  A Common Variant in MTHFD1L is Associated with Neural Tube Defects and mRNA Splicing Efficiency 
Human mutation  2009;30(12):1650-1656.
Polymorphisms in folate-related genes have emerged as important risk factors in a range of diseases including neural tube defects (NTDs), cancer and coronary artery disease (CAD). Having previously identified a polymorphism within the cytoplasmic folate enzyme, MTHFD1, as a maternal risk factor for NTDs; we considered the more recently identified mitochondrial paralogue, MTHFD1L as a candidate gene for NTD association. We identified a common deletion/insertion polymorphism, rs3832406, c.781-6823ATT(7-9), that influences splicing efficiency and is strongly associated with NTD risk. Three alleles of rs3832406 were detected in the Irish population with varying number of ATT repeats; Allele 1 consists of ATT7, while Alleles 2 and 3 consist of ATT8 and ATT9 respectively. Allele 2 of this triallelic polymorphism showed a decreased case risk as demonstrated by case-control logistic regression (P= 0.002) and by transmission disequilibrium test (TDT) (P= 0.001); while Allele 1 showed an increased case risk. Allele 3 showed no influence on NTD risk and represents the lowest frequency allele (0.15). Additional SNP genotyping in the same genomic region provides additional supportive evidence of an association. We demonstrate that two of the three alleles of rs3832406 are functionally different and influence the splicing efficiency of the alternate MTHFD1L mRNA transcripts.
doi:10.1002/humu.21109
PMCID: PMC2787683  PMID: 19777576
MTHFD1L; NTD; Splicing; Polymorphism; Association; Folate; Mitochondria
14.  CHKA and PCYT1A gene polymorphisms, choline intake and spina bifida risk in a California population 
BMC Medicine  2006;4:36.
Background
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are among the most common of all human congenital defects. Over the last two decades, accumulating evidence has made it clear that periconceptional intake of folic acid can significantly reduce the risk of NTD affected pregnancies. This beneficial effect may be related to the ability of folates to donate methyl groups for critical physiological reactions. Choline is an essential nutrient and it is also a methyl donor critical for the maintenance of cell membrane integrity and methyl metabolism. Perturbations in choline metabolism in vitro have been shown to induce NTDs in mouse embryos.
Methods
This study investigated whether single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in human choline kinase A (CHKA) gene and CTP:phosphocholine cytidylytransferase (PCYT1A) gene were risk factors for spina bifida. Fluorescence-based allelic discrimination analysis was performed for the two CHKA intronic SNPs hCV1562388 (rs7928739) and hCV1562393, and PCYT1A SNP rs939883 and rs3772109. The study population consisted of 103 infants with spina bifida and 338 non-malformed control infants who were born in selected California counties in the period 1989–1991.
Results
The CHKA SNP hCV1562388 genotypes with at least one C allele were associated with a reduced risk of spina bifida (odds ratio = 0.60, 95%CI = 0.38–0.94). The PCYT1A SNP rs939883 genotype AA was associated with a twofold increased risk of spina bifida (odds ratio = 1.89, 95% CI = 0.97–3.67). These gene-only effects were not substantially modified by analytic consideration to maternal periconceptional choline intake.
Conclusion
Our analyses showed genotype effects of CHKA and PCYT1A genes on spina bifida risk, but did not show evidence of gene-nutrient interactions. The underlying mechanisms are yet to be resolved.
doi:10.1186/1741-7015-4-36
PMCID: PMC1770928  PMID: 17184542
15.  Neural Tube Defects, Folic Acid and Methylation 
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common complex congenital malformations resulting from failure of the neural tube closure during embryogenesis. It is established that folic acid supplementation decreases the prevalence of NTDs, which has led to national public health policies regarding folic acid. To date, animal studies have not provided sufficient information to establish the metabolic and/or genomic mechanism(s) underlying human folic acid responsiveness in NTDs. However, several lines of evidence suggest that not only folates but also choline, B12 and methylation metabolisms are involved in NTDs. Decreased B12 vitamin and increased total choline or homocysteine in maternal blood have been shown to be associated with increased NTDs risk. Several polymorphisms of genes involved in these pathways have also been implicated in risk of development of NTDs. This raises the question whether supplementation with B12 vitamin, betaine or other methylation donors in addition to folic acid periconceptional supplementation will further reduce NTD risk. The objective of this article is to review the role of methylation metabolism in the onset of neural tube defects.
doi:10.3390/ijerph10094352
PMCID: PMC3799525  PMID: 24048206
neural tube defects; folate; methylation; choline; methionine; homocysteine; MTHFR; B12 vitamin
16.  Deep Sequencing Study of the MTHFR Gene to Identify Variants Associated with Myelomeningocele 
INTRODUCTION
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are congenital anomalies caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. A defect below the head region resulting in protuberance of meninges and nervous tissue is termed myelomeningocele (MM). MM, the most common NTD compatible with survival, occurs in approximately 1 in 1,000 births worldwide. Maternal pre- and periconceptional folate supplementation reduces the risk of NTDs by up to 70%. A key enzyme in folate metabolism is 5, 10-methylene-tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR).
OBJECTIVES
Sequence the 12 exons of the MTHFR gene among 96 subjects with MM to identify variants potentially contributing to the disease trait.
METHODS
Exons were amplified by polymerase chain reaction and the products were sequenced by Sanger method to reveal sequence variants compared to MTHFR reference sequences. Association of variants was examined by Fisher’s test.
RESULTS
A novel variant c.171+3G>T was identified in intron 1 in one affected subject. The variant was not found in the subject’s unaffected mother’s DNA and the unaffected father’s DNA was unavailable. We found significant differences in allele frequencies for seven SNPs in MM subjects compared to ethnically matched reference populations reported in the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) database (dbSNP).
CONCLUSION
We identified a novel variant c.171+3G>T in the MTHFR gene that potentially affects splicing in an affected subject. Also, we observed five SNPs (rs13306561, rs2274976, rs2066462, rs12121543, and rs1476413) in the MTHFR gene not previously shown to associate with MM. The current study provides additional evidence that multiple variations in the MTHFR gene are associated with MM.
doi:10.1002/bdra.22884
PMCID: PMC3327553  PMID: 22241680
17.  Genetics of human neural tube defects 
Human Molecular Genetics  2009;18(R2):R113-R129.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common, severe congenital malformations whose causation involves multiple genes and environmental factors. Although more than 200 genes are known to cause NTDs in mice, there has been rather limited progress in delineating the molecular basis underlying most human NTDs. Numerous genetic studies have been carried out to investigate candidate genes in cohorts of patients, with particular reference to those that participate in folate one-carbon metabolism. Although the homocysteine remethylation gene MTHFR has emerged as a risk factor in some human populations, few other consistent findings have resulted from this approach. Similarly, attention focused on the human homologues of mouse NTD genes has contributed only limited positive findings to date, although an emerging association between genes of the non-canonical Wnt (planar cell polarity) pathway and NTDs provides candidates for future studies. Priorities for the next phase of this research include: (i) larger studies that are sufficiently powered to detect significant associations with relatively minor risk factors; (ii) analysis of multiple candidate genes in groups of well-genotyped individuals to detect possible gene–gene interactions; (iii) use of high throughput genomic technology to evaluate the role of copy number variants and to detect ‘private’ and regulatory mutations, neither of which have been studied to date; (iv) detailed analysis of patient samples stratified by phenotype to enable, for example, hypothesis-driven testing of candidates genes in groups of NTDs with specific defects of folate metabolism, or in groups of fetuses with well-defined phenotypes such as craniorachischisis.
doi:10.1093/hmg/ddp347
PMCID: PMC2758708  PMID: 19808787
18.  Detection of Copy Number Variants Reveals Association of Cilia Genes with Neural Tube Defects 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54492.
Background
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are one of the most common birth defects caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Currently, little is known about the genetic basis of NTDs although up to 70% of human NTDs were reported to be attributed to genetic factors. Here we performed genome-wide copy number variants (CNVs) detection in a cohort of Chinese NTD patients in order to exam the potential role of CNVs in the pathogenesis of NTDs.
Methods
The genomic DNA from eighty-five NTD cases and seventy-five matched normal controls were subjected for whole genome CNVs analysis. Non-DGV (the Database of Genomic Variants) CNVs from each group were further analyzed for their associations with NTDs. Gene content in non-DGV CNVs as well as participating pathways were examined.
Results
Fifty-five and twenty-six non-DGV CNVs were detected in cases and controls respectively. Among them, forty and nineteen CNVs involve genes (genic CNV). Significantly more non-DGV CNVs and non-DGV genic CNVs were detected in NTD patients than in control (41.2% vs. 25.3%, p<0.05 and 37.6% vs. 20%, p<0.05). Non-DGV genic CNVs are associated with a 2.65-fold increased risk for NTDs (95% CI: 1.24–5.87). Interestingly, there are 41 cilia genes involved in non-DGV CNVs from NTD patients which is significantly enriched in cases compared with that in controls (24.7% vs. 9.3%, p<0.05), corresponding with a 3.19-fold increased risk for NTDs (95% CI: 1.27–8.01). Pathway analyses further suggested that two ciliogenesis pathways, tight junction and protein kinase A signaling, are top canonical pathways implicated in NTD-specific CNVs, and these two novel pathways interact with known NTD pathways.
Conclusions
Evidence from the genome-wide CNV study suggests that genic CNVs, particularly ciliogenic CNVs are associated with NTDs and two ciliogenesis pathways, tight junction and protein kinase A signaling, are potential pathways involved in NTD pathogenesis.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054492
PMCID: PMC3547935  PMID: 23349908
19.  Neural Tube Defects and Folate Pathway Genes: Family-Based Association Tests of Gene–Gene and Gene–Environment Interactions 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2006;114(10):1547-1552.
Background
Folate metabolism pathway genes have been examined for association with neural tube defects (NTDs) because folic acid supplementation reduces the risk of this debilitating birth defect. Most studies addressed these genes individually, often with different populations providing conflicting results.
Objectives
Our study evaluates several folate pathway genes for association with human NTDs, incorporating an environmental cofactor: maternal folate supplementation.
Methods
In 304 Caucasian American NTD families with myelomeningocele or anencephaly, we examined 28 polymorphisms in 11 genes: folate receptor 1, folate receptor 2, solute carrier family 19 member 1, transcobalamin II, methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase 1, serine hydroxymethyl-transferase 1, 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), 5-methyltetrahydrofolate-homo-cysteine methyltransferase, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate-homocysteine methyltransferase reductase, betaine-homocysteine methyltransferase (BHMT), and cystathionine-beta-synthase.
Results
Only single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in BHMT were significantly associated in the overall data set; this significance was strongest when mothers took folate-containing nutritional supplements before conception. The BHMT SNP rs3733890 was more significant when the data were stratified by preferential transmission of the MTHFR rs1801133 thermolabile T allele from parent to offspring. Other SNPs in folate pathway genes were marginally significant in some analyses when stratified by maternal supplementation, MTHFR, or BHMT allele transmission.
Conclusions
BHMT rs3733890 is significantly associated in our data set, whereas MTHFR rs1801133 is not a major risk factor. Further investigation of folate and methionine cycle genes will require extensive SNP genotyping and/or resequencing to identify novel variants, inclusion of environmental factors, and investigation of gene–gene interactions in large data sets.
doi:10.1289/ehp.9166
PMCID: PMC1626421  PMID: 17035141
folate; folic acid supplementation; genetic association; neural tube defects
20.  Clinical utility of folate-containing oral contraceptives 
Folate is a generic term for a water-soluble B-complex vitamin which plays an important role in protein synthesis and metabolism and other processes related to cell multiplication and tissue growth. Pregnant and lactating women are at increased risk of folic acid deficiency because generally their dietary folate is insufficient to meet their physiological requirements and the metabolic demands of the growing fetus. The evidence pertaining to the reduction of the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) due to folate is so compelling that supplementation with 400 μg of folic acid to all women trying to conceive until 12 weeks of pregnancy has been recommended by every relevant authority. A recent Cochrane review has also found protective effects of folate supplementation in occurrence and reoccurrence of NTDs. Despite food fortification and targeted public health campaigns promoting folic acid supplementation, 4,300,000 new cases occur each year worldwide resulting in an estimated 41,000 deaths and 2.3 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYS). This article will review the burden and risk factors of NTDS, and the role of folate in preventing NTDs. It will also describe different modes of supplementing folate and the newer evidence of the effectiveness of adding folate in oral contraceptives for raising serum and red blood cell folate levels.
doi:10.2147/IJWH.S18611
PMCID: PMC3346209  PMID: 22570577
folate; folate-containing oral contraceptives; oral contraceptives; contraceptives
21.  Association of the Maternal MTHFR C677T Polymorphism with Susceptibility to Neural Tube Defects in Offsprings: Evidence from 25 Case-Control Studies 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e41689.
Background
Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) is a critical enzyme in folate metabolism and is involved in DNA methylation, DNA synthesis, and DNA repair. In addition, it is a possible risk factor in neural tube defects (NTDs). The association of the C677T polymorphism in the MTHFR gene and NTD susceptibility has been widely demonstrated, but the results remain inconclusive. In this study, we performed a meta-analysis with 2429 cases and 3570 controls to investigate the effect of the MTHFR C677T polymorphism on NTDs.
Methods
An electronic search of PubMed and Embase database for papers on the MTHFR C677T polymorphism and NTD risk was performed. All data were analysed with STATA (version 11). Odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated to assess the association. Sensitivity analysis, test of heterogeneity, cumulative meta-analysis, and assessment of bias were performed in our meta-analysis.
Results
A significant association between the MTHFR C677T polymorphism and NTD susceptibility was revealed in our meta-analysis ( TT versus CC: OR  = 2.022, 95% CI: 1.508, 2.712; CT+TT versus CC: OR  = 1.303, 95% CI: 1.089, 1.558; TT versus CC+CT: OR  = 1.716, 95% CI: 1.448, 2.033; 2TT+CT versus 2CC+CT: OR  = 1.330, 95% CI: 1.160, 1.525). Moreover, an increased NTD risk was found after stratification of the MTHFR C677T variant data by ethnicity and source of controls.
Conclusion
The results suggested the maternal MTHFR C677T polymorphism is a genetic risk factor for NTDs. Further functional studies to investigate folate-related gene polymorphisms, periconceptional multivitamin supplements, complex interactions, and the development of NTDs are warranted.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041689
PMCID: PMC3463537  PMID: 23056169
22.  Mechanistic insights into folate supplementation from Crooked tail and other NTD-prone mutant mice 
Despite two decades of research since R. Smithells and colleagues began exploring its benefits, the mechanisms through which folic acid supplementation supports neural tube closure and early embryonic development are still unclear. The greatest progress toward a molecular genetic understanding of folate effects on neural tube defect (NTD) pathogenesis has come from animal models. The numbers of NTD-associated mouse mutants accumulated and studied over the past decade have illuminated the complexity of both genetic factors contributing to NTDs and also NTD-gene interactions with folate metabolism. This article discusses insights gained from mouse models into how folate supplementation impacts neurulation. A case is made for renewed efforts to systematically screen the folate responsiveness of the scores of NTD-associated mouse mutations now identified. Designed after Crooked tail, supplementation studies of additional mouse mutants could build the molecular network maps that will ultimately enable tailoring of therapeutic regimens to individual families.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20542
PMCID: PMC2811164  PMID: 19067399
Folic acid; neural tube defects; folate metabolic pathway; mouse models; nucleotide biosynthesis; methylation
23.  Folate-related gene variants in Irish families affected by neural tube defects 
Frontiers in Genetics  2013;4:223.
Periconceptional folic acid use can often prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). Variants of genes involved in folate metabolism in mothers and children have been associated with occurrence of NTDs. We identified Irish families with individuals affected by neural tube defects. In these families, we observed that neural tube defects and birth defects overall occurred at a higher rate in the maternal lineage compared with the paternal lineage. The goal of this study was to look for evidence for genetic effects that could explain the discrepancy in the occurrence of these birth defects in the maternal vs. paternal lineage. We genotyped blood samples from 322 individuals from NTD-affected Irish families, identified through their membership in spina bifida associations. We looked for differences in distribution in maternal vs. paternal lineages of five genetic polymorphisms: the DHFR 19 bp deletion, MTHFD1 1958G>A, MTHFR 1298A>C, MTHFR 677C>T, and SLC19A1 80A>G. In addition to looking at genotypes individually, we determined the number of genotypes associated with decreased folate metabolism in each relative (“risk genotypes”) and compared the distribution of these genotypes in maternal vs. paternal relatives. Overall, maternal relatives had a higher number of genotypes associated with lower folate metabolism than paternal relatives (p = 0.017). We expected that relatives would share the same risk genotype as the individuals with NTDs and/or their mothers. However, we observed that maternal relatives had an over-abundance of any risk genotype, rather than one specific genotype. The observed genetic effects suggest an epigenetic mechanism in which decreased folate metabolism results in epigenetic alterations related to the increased rate of NTDs and other birth defects seen in the maternal lineage. Future studies on the etiology of NTDs and other birth defects could benefit from including multigenerational extended families, in order to explore potential epigenetic mechanisms.
doi:10.3389/fgene.2013.00223
PMCID: PMC3818582  PMID: 24223580
neural tube defects; folate metabolism; DHFR 19bp deletion; MTHFD1 1958G>A; MTHFR 1298A>C; MTHFR 677C>T; SLC19A1 80A>G; maternal inheritance
24.  Schizophrenia and Neural Tube Defects: Comparisons From an Epidemiological Perspective 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2006;33(4):853-858.
In this review, we examine and compare epidemiological studies of schizophrenia and neural tube defects (NTDs). Although there is no apparent link between these 2 disparate disorders in terms of clinical manifestation or phenotypes, overlapping patterns in the variation of incidence of schizophrenia with that of NTDs indicate the existence of one or more shared etiological risk factors. Evidence in support of such a phenomenon may enhance our understanding of underlying pathological mechanisms and may guide future studies of etiology and prevention. The similarities that occur in a number of epidemiological observations for these disorders are in keeping with a hypothesis of nutritional deficiencies in utero acting as a risk factor for both schizophrenia and NTDs. Programes of periconceptual folate and multivitamin supplementation aimed to reduce the risk of NTDs are already in place in many countries. Nevertheless, evidence of additional effects of specific maternal micronutrient deficiency on risk of schizophrenia may not only increase enthusiasm for expansion of such programes but also enhance understanding of etiology of this disorder and offer the potential for targeted interventions in high-risk groups.
doi:10.1093/schbul/sbl041
PMCID: PMC2632320  PMID: 16980574
epidemiology; folic acid; 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase; micronutrients; neural tube defects; schizophrenia
25.  Potential Prevention of Neural Tube Defects by Assessment of Women of Childbearing Age Through Monitoring of Folate 
Therapeutic drug monitoring  2002;24(5):628-630.
Summary
Background
Three quarters of neural tube defects (NTD) can be prevented by sufficient dietary folate supplementation. Despite this knowledge, most women do not supplement their diet effectively. Red cell folate concentrations correlate with the risk of NTD, and levels of less than 900 nM are associated with an increased risk of these serious congenital anomalies.
Objective
Laboratory tests to assess anemia include testing for folate. This study was conducted to estimate the potential benefits of informing women of reproductive age who are unaware of their low folate levels, uncovered in their anemia tests.
Methods
The number of Ontario women of reproductive age who undergo folate tests and are at an increased risk of NTD was calculated. In addition, the authors calculated the number of NTD cases that could have been prevented if these women were informed of the possible consequences of their low folate levels should they become pregnant.
Results
In 1998, red cell folate concentrations were measured in 23,109 women of childbearing age (15–45 y). Approximately half of the women [n = 11,392 (49.3%)] had folate levels below 900 nM and thus were at an increased risk of giving birth to a child with NTD should they have become pregnant. Their overall mean relative risk (RR) of NTD was 1.95, or 1:512 births. If they would have been informed of this risk and subsequently increased their consumption of folate before becoming pregnant, 22.3 cases of NTD per year could have possibly been prevented at no extra cost, since the folic acid results were a part of investigational blood tests performed for another reason (anemia).
Conclusions
Women of reproductive age who are being evaluated for the cause of anemia and have low red cell folate results constitute a high-risk group for NTD in their children. These women should be informed of the increased risk and of methods of dietary folate supplementation.
PMCID: PMC3635838  PMID: 12352934
Folic acid; Pregnancy; Pregnancy outcome; Dietary supplements; Neural tube defects; Preventative health services; Primary prevention

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