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.
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.
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.
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.
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Folic acid; One-carbon metabolism; Candidate gene
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.
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.
congenital abnormalities; folic acid; neural tube defects; single nucleotide polymorphism; spina bifida
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.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) is a general term for central nervous system malformations secondary to a failure of closure or development of the neural tube. The resulting pathologies may involve the brain, spinal cord and/or vertebral column, in addition to associated structures such as soft tissue or skin. The condition is reported among the more common birth defects in humans, leading to significant infant morbidity and mortality. The etiology remains poorly understood but genetic, nutritional, environmental factors, or a combination of these, are known to play a role in the development of NTDs. The variable conditions associated with NTDs occur naturally in dogs, and have been previously reported in the Weimaraner breed. Taking advantage of the strong linkage-disequilibrium within dog breeds we performed genome-wide association analysis and mapped a genomic region for spinal dysraphism, a presumed NTD, using 4 affected and 96 unaffected Weimaraners. The associated region on canine chromosome 8 (pgenome = 3.0×10−5), after 100,000 permutations, encodes 18 genes, including NKX2-8, a homeobox gene which is expressed in the developing neural tube. Sequencing NKX2-8 in affected Weimaraners revealed a G to AA frameshift mutation within exon 2 of the gene, resulting in a premature stop codon that is predicted to produce a truncated protein. The exons of NKX2-8 were sequenced in human patients with spina bifida and rare variants (rs61755040 and rs10135525) were found to be significantly over-represented (p = 0.036). This is the first documentation of a potential role for NKX2-8 in the etiology of NTDs, made possible by investigating the molecular basis of naturally occurring mutations in dogs.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are birth defects resulting from errors in the closure of the neural tube, an embryonic structure which develops into tissues of the central nervous system during pregnancy. NTDs commonly lead to costly lifelong disabilities. They are considered to be caused by a combination of nutritional, inherited and environmental factors, and their interactions. However, an obvious mechanism is currently unknown. Genetic studies in human populations are made difficult by the multifactorial nature of NTDs and because multiple cases within a single family are rare. Animal models are helpful in dissecting the genetics of such complex traits; however existing rodent models do not explain all of the NTD cases in humans. Dogs are excellent biomedical models for humans since they receive comparable medical care, share our home environment, and develop naturally occurring diseases comparable to those in humans. We used a naturally occurring NTD in Weimaraner dogs, termed spinal dysraphism, to identify a mutation in an associated regulatory gene, NKX2-8. Mutations in NKX2-8 were subsequently documented in human patients with a generally similar NTD termed spina bifida. This is the first documented evidence that NKX2-8 has a role in NTDs. It is expected that this discovery will contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms leading to NTDs.
A randomised trial was initiated in Ireland in 1981 to determine if periconceptional supplementation with either folic acid alone or a multivitamin preparation alone could reduce the recurrence risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in women with a previously affected pregnancy from 5.0% to 1.0% or less. The trial was concluded before the initial target number of study subjects was reached and without a clear treatment effect being observed. A total of 354 women were randomised to receive one of three treatments: folic acid, multivitamins without folic acid, and folic acid plus multivitamins. At the end of the trial 257 women had had a first trial pregnancy outcome (261 infants/fetuses) where the presence or absence of NTDs was ascertainable. There was one NTD recurrence in the 89 infants/fetuses of women in the multivitamin group and no recurrence in the 172 infants/fetuses of women in the folic acid groups, a non-significant difference. Otherwise eligible women who were pregnant when first contacted constituted a non-randomised control group; there were three recurrences among the 103 infants in this group. The difference in the recurrence rate between the folic acid groups and the non-randomised controls was statistically significant but we have reservations about the validity of this comparison. Although our findings do not provide clear evidence of a protective effect of folic acid supplementation they are consistent with those of the Medical Research Council (MRC) trial which demonstrated the efficacy of folic acid in preventing recurrence of NTDs and they raise the possibility that folic acid may be protective at a much lower dosage than that used in the MRC trial.
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).
Sequence the 12 exons of the MTHFR gene among 96 subjects with MM to identify variants potentially contributing to the disease trait.
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.
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).
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.
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.
neural tube defects; folate; methylation; choline; methionine; homocysteine; MTHFR; B12 vitamin
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.
OBJECTIVE: To prevent the recurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs) in families at increased risk of having offspring with NTDs with the use of periconceptional folic acid supplementation. OPTIONS: Genetic counselling and prenatal diagnosis of NTDs. OUTCOMES: NTDs cause stillbirth, neonatal death and severe disabilities. The cost for medical care and rehabilitation in the first 10 years of life of a child with spina bifida cystica was estimated to be $42,507 in 1987. EVIDENCE: The authors reviewed the medical literature, communicated with investigators from key studies, reviewed policy recommendations from other organizations and drew on their own expertise. A recent multicentre randomized controlled trial showed that among women at high risk of having a child with an NTD those who received 4 mg/d of folic acid had 72% fewer cases of NTD-affected offspring than nonsupplemented women. Two previous intervention studies also demonstrated that folic acid supplementation was effective in reducing the rate of NTD recurrence. Several retrospective studies support this conclusion. VALUES: Recommendations are the consensus of the Clinical Teratology Committee of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists (CCMG) and have been approved by the CCMG Board. The committee believes that primary prevention of NTDs is preferable to treatment or to prenatal detection and abortion. BENEFITS, HARMS AND COSTS: Folic acid supplementation should result in fewer NTDs among infants in Canada and ancillary savings in medical costs. The recommended dosage of folic acid is not known to be associated with adverse effects. Higher dosages of folic acid may make vitamin B12 deficiency difficult to diagnose and may alter seizure frequency in patients with epilepsy due to drug interactions with anticonvulsants. RECOMMENDATIONS: A minimum dosage of folic acid of 0.8 mg/d, not to exceed 5.0 mg/d, is recommended along with a well-balanced, nutritious diet for all women who are at increased risk of having offspring with NTDs and who are planning a pregnancy or may become pregnant. Supplementation should begin before conception and continue for at least 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. VALIDATION: These guidelines are similar to those of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health in Britain. SPONSORS: These guidelines were developed by the CCMG Clinical Teratology Committee and endorsed by the Board of the CCMG. No funding for the development of these guidelines was obtained from any other sources.
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.
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.
Folic acid; neural tube defects; folate metabolic pathway; mouse models; nucleotide biosynthesis; methylation
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.
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.
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.
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.
To assess the efficacy of folic acid (FA) supplementation and fortification in preventing neural tube defects (NTDs) in a high prevalence region of the US.
Active and passive surveillance methods were used to identify all fetuses/infants affected by an NTD in South Carolina. Prevalence rates were compared with FA intake to determine the effects of increased intake on NTD occurrence and recurrence.
From 1992–2009, 916 NTD cases occurred in South Carolina with isolated defects comprising 79% of cases. The NTD rate decreased 58% during this period. There was one NTD-affected pregnancy among 418 subsequent pregnancies (0.2%) in mothers with previous NTD-affected pregnancies who consumed periconceptional FA supplements and four NTDs among 66 pregnancies (6.1%) in which the mother did not take FA supplements. Folic acid supplementation increased from 8% to 35% from 1992–2007 and knowledge of the protective benefits of FA increased from 8% to 65% in women of childbearing age.
Increased periconceptional intake of FA appeared to reduce NTDs in a high prevalence region. The rate of spina bifida and anencephaly in South Carolina is now essentially the same (0.69 cases per 1000 live births and fetal deaths) as the 1998–2005 US rate (0.69).
birth defects; folic acid; South Carolina; spina bifida; anencephaly; encephalocele
Cranial neural tube defects (NTDs) occur in mice carrying mutant alleles of many different genes, whereas isolated spinal NTDs (spina bifida) occur in fewer models, despite being common human birth defects. Spina bifida occurs at high frequency in the Axial defects (Axd) mouse mutant but the causative gene is not known. In the current study, the Axd mutation was mapped by linkage analysis. Within the critical genomic region, sequencing did not reveal a coding mutation whereas expression analysis demonstrated significant up-regulation of grainyhead-like 2 (Grhl2) in Axd mutant embryos. Expression of other candidate genes did not differ between genotypes. In order to test the hypothesis that over-expression of Grhl2 causes Axd NTDs, we performed a genetic cross to reduce Grhl2 function in Axd heterozygotes. Grhl2 loss of function mutant mice were generated and displayed both cranial and spinal NTDs. Compound heterozygotes carrying both loss (Grhl2 null) and putative gain of function (Axd) alleles exhibited normalization of spinal neural tube closure compared with Axd/+ littermates, which exhibit delayed closure. Grhl2 is expressed in the surface ectoderm and hindgut endoderm in the spinal region, overlapping with grainyhead-like 3 (Grhl3). Axd mutants display delayed eyelid closure, as reported in Grhl3 null embryos. Moreover, Axd mutant embryos exhibited increased ventral curvature of the spinal region and reduced proliferation in the hindgut, reminiscent of curly tail embryos, which carry a hypomorphic allele of Grhl3. Overall, our data suggest that defects in Axd mutant embryos result from over-expression of Grhl2.
Neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida and anencephaly, are the second most common birth defect with an incidence of 1/1000. Genetic factors are believed to contribute to NTD risk and family-based studies can be useful for identifying such risk factors.
We ascertained 1066 NTD families (1467 affected patients), including 307 multiplex NTD families. We performed pedigree analysis to describe the inheritance patterns, pregnancy outcomes and recurrence risks to relatives of various types.
Myelomeningocele or spina bifida (66.9%) and cranial defects (17.7%) were the most common NTD subtypes observed. The overall male:female ratio for affected individuals was 0.82, and there were even fewer males among individuals with an upper level NTD (0.62). Among twins, two of the five monozygotic twins and only three of 35 dizygotic twins were concordant, while 27% of the same sex twins were concordant, but none of the different sex twins. The estimated 6.3% recurrence risk to siblings (CI 0.04 0.08) is consistent with previous reports. Families with two or more affected individuals show a higher proportion of female transmitters (P = 0.0002). Additionally, the number of affected relatives in maternal compared to paternal lineages was more than double (P = 0.006). There were significantly more miscarriages, infant deaths, and stillborn pregnancies in the maternal aunts and uncles (P = < 0.0001) and of first cousins (P = 0.04).
Our data provide several lines of evidence consistent with a maternal effect, as well as a sex-influenced effect, in the etiology of NTDs.
neural tube defects; spina bifida; anencephaly; maternal effect; recurrence risk
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are the second most common group of serious birth defects. Although folic acid has been shown to reduce effectively the risk of NTDs and measures have been taken to increase the awareness, knowledge, and consumption of folic acid, the full potential of folic acid to reduce the risk of NTDs has not been realized in most countries. To understand the economic burden of NTDs and the economic impact of preventing NTDs with folic acid, a systematic review was performed on relevant studies. A total of 14 cost of illness studies and 10 economic evaluations on prevention of NTDs with folic acid were identified. Consistent findings were reported across all of the cost of illness studies. The lifetime direct medical cost for patients with NTDs is significant, with the majority of cost being for inpatient care, for treatment at initial diagnosis in childhood, and for comorbidities in adult life. The lifetime indirect cost for patients with spina bifida is even greater due to increased morbidity and premature mortality. Caregiver time costs are also significant. The results from the economic evaluations demonstrate that folic acid fortification in food and preconception folic acid consumption are cost-effective ways to reduce the incidence and prevalence of NTDs. This review highlights the significant cost burden that NTDs pose to healthcare systems, various healthcare payers, and society and concludes that the benefits of prevention of NTDs with folic acid far outweigh the cost. Further intervention with folic acid is justified in countries where the full potential of folic acid to reduce the risk of NTDs has not been realized.
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Economic burden; Cost; Folic acid; Prevention
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.
neural tube defects; folic acid; inositol; exencephaly; curly tail; diet
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common birth defects, occurring in approximately 1/1,000 births; both genetic and environmental factors are implicated. To date, no major genetic risk factors have been identified. Throughout development, cell adhesion molecules are strongly implicated in cell–cell interactions, and may play a role in the formation and closure of the neural tube. To evaluate the role of neural cell adhesion molecule 1 (NCAM1) in risk of human NTDs, we screened for novel single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the gene. Eleven SNPs across NCAM1 were genotyped using TaqMan. We utilized a family-based approach to evaluate evidence for association and/or linkage disequilibrium. We evaluated American Caucasian simplex lumbosacral myelomeningocele families (n=132 families) using the family based association test (FBAT) and the pedigree disequilibrium test (PDT). Association analysis revealed a significant association between risk for NTDs and intronic SNP rs2298526 using both the FBAT test (P=0.0018) and the PDT (P=0.0025). Using the HBAT version of the FBAT to look for haplotype association, all pairwise comparisons with SNP rs2298526 were also significant. A replication study set, consisting of 72 additional families showed no significant association; however, the overall trend for overtransmission of the less common allele of SNP rs2298526 remained significant in the combined sample set. In addition, we analyzed the expression pattern of the NCAM1 protein in human embryos, and while NCAM1 is not expressed within the neural tube at the time of closure, it is expressed in the surrounding and later in differentiated neurons of the CNS. These results suggest variations in NCAM1 may influence risk for human NTDs.
Studies in the 1990s have found that periconceptional dietary folate, supplementation of folic acid or supplemental multivitamins containing folic acid, help prevent neural tube defect (NTDs) if taken at the right time. This literature review assesses the extant folic acid public health campaigns literature and identifies some common variables used in folic acid consumption campaign evaluations.
This review was part of a larger study that searched PUBMED, PsycINFO and Embase from 1976 to 2010 to identify articles related to the psychosocial and economic impact of NTDs (especially spina bifida) on patients and caregivers.
Awareness of folic acid levels prior to conception improved post-campaign from 6 to 41%. Knowledge about consumption and correct periconceptional use of folic acid also improved. However, in most studies more than 50% of women did not take folic acid as prescribed. Many factors were associated with or without taking folic acid post-campaign, including incomplete outreach, prior awareness and knowledge, closeness to pregnancy, demographics and other personal characteristics.
Sustained campaigning to maintain awareness about and promote periconceptional consumption of folic acid in order to reduce the incidence of NTDs is clearly needed. Additional initiatives could complement existing public health strategies.
awareness; campaigns; consumption; folic acid; knowledge
Periconceptional use of vitamin supplements containing folic acid reduces the risk of a neural tube defect (NTD). In November 1998, food fortification with folic acid was mandated in Canada, as a public health strategy to increase the folic acid intake of all women of childbearing age. We undertook a comprehensive population based study in Newfoundland to assess the benefits and possible adverse effects of this intervention.
This study was carried out in women aged 19–44 years and in seniors from November 1997 to March 1998, and from November 2000 to March 2001. The evaluation was comprised of four components: I) Determination of rates of NTDs; II) Dietary assessment; III) Blood analysis; IV) Assessment of knowledge and use of folic acid supplements.
The annual rates of NTDs in Newfoundland varied greatly between 1976 and 1997, with a mean rate of 3.40 per 1,000 births. There was no significant change in the average rates between 1991–93 and 1994–97 (relative risk [RR] 1.01, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.76–1.34). The rates of NTDs fell by 78% (95% CI 65%–86%) after the implementation of folic acid fortification, from an average of 4.36 per 1,000 births during 1991–1997 to 0.96 per 1,000 births during 1998–2001 (RR 0.22, 95% CI 0.14–0.35). The average dietary intake of folic acid due to fortification was 70 μg/day in women aged 19–44 years and 74 μg/day in seniors. There were significant increases in serum and RBC folate levels for women and seniors after mandatory fortification. Among seniors, there were no significant changes in indices typical of vitamin B12 deficiencies, and no evidence of improved folate status masking haematological manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency. The proportion of women aged 19–44 years taking a vitamin supplement containing folic acid increased from 17% to 28%.
Based on these findings, mandatory food fortification in Canada should continue at the current levels. Public education regarding folic acid supplement use by women of childbearing age should also continue.
Formation of brain and spinal cord requires the successful closure of neural ectoderm into an embryonic neural tube. Defects in this process result in anencephaly or spina bifida, which together constitute a leading cause of mortality and morbidity in children, affecting all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. The subject of intensive research for decades, neural tube defects (NTDs) are understood to arise from complex interactions of genes and environmental conditions, though systems-level details are still elusive. Despite the variety of underlying causes, a single intervention, folic acid supplementation given in the first gestational month can measurably reduce the occurrence of NTDs in a population. Evidence for and the scope of gene-environment interactions in the genesis of NTDs are discussed. A systems-based approach is now possible toward studies of genetic and environmental influences underlying NTDs that will enable the assessment of individual risk and personalized optimization of prevention.
Neural tube defects; Genetics; Epigenetics; Folic acid; Gene networks; Pathway interactions; Spina bifida; Anencephaly; Mouse models
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Congenital Abnormalities; Folic Acid; Genetic Association Studies; Molecular Epidemiology; Neural Tube Defects; Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena; Nervous System Malformations; Nutrigenomics
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.
Our study evaluates several folate pathway genes for association with human NTDs, incorporating an environmental cofactor: maternal folate supplementation.
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.
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.
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.
folate; folic acid supplementation; genetic association; neural tube defects