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1.  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
2.  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
3.  Genome-Wide Association Mapping in Dogs Enables Identification of the Homeobox Gene, NKX2-8, as a Genetic Component of Neural Tube Defects in Humans 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003646.
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.
Author Summary
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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003646
PMCID: PMC3715436  PMID: 23874236
4.  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
5.  Uncoupling Protein 2 Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects 
BACKGROUND:
Both environmental and genetic factors are involved in the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). Inadequate folate intake and obesity are important environmental risk factors. Several folate-related genetic variants have been identified as risk factors; however, little is known about how genetic variants relate to the increased risk seen in obese women. Uncoupling Protein 2 (UCP2) is an attractive candidate to screen for NTD risk because of its possible role in obesity as well as energy metabolism, type-2 diabetes, and the regulation of reactive oxygen species. Interestingly, a previous study found that a common UCP2 compound homozygous genotype was associated with a threefold increase in NTD risk.
METHODS:
We evaluated three polymorphisms, −866G>A, A55V, and the 3′UTR 45bp insertion/deletion, as risk factors for NTDs in Irish NTD cases (N=169), their mothers (N=163), their fathers (N=167) and normal control subjects (N=332).
RESULTS:
Allele and genotype frequencies were not significantly different when comparing NTD mothers, NTD fathers, or affected children to controls. Additionally, the previously reported risk genotype (combined homozygosity of 55VV and 3′UTR 45bp deletion/deletion) was not present at a higher frequency in any NTD group when compared to controls.
CONCLUSIONS:
In our Irish study population, UCP2 polymorphisms do not influence NTD risk. Moreover, the prevalence of this allele in other populations was similar to the Irish prevalence but far lower than reported in the previous NTD study, suggesting that this previous finding of an association with NTDs might have been due to an unrepresentative study sample.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20520
PMCID: PMC2724655  PMID: 19137581
neural tube defects; spina bifida; UCP2; obesity
6.  SNPs in the neural cell adhesion molecule 1 gene (NCAM1) may be associated with human neural tube defects 
Human genetics  2005;117(2-3):133-142.
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.
doi:10.1007/s00439-005-1299-7
PMCID: PMC3130962  PMID: 15883837
7.  Transcobalamin II Receptor Polymorphisms Are Associated with Increased Risk for Neural Tube Defects 
Journal of medical genetics  2010;47(10):677-685.
Objective:
Women who have low cobalamin (vitamin B12) levels are at increased risk for having children with neural tube defects (NTDs). The transcobalamin II receptor (TCblR) mediates uptake of cobalamin into cells. We evaluated inherited variants in the TCblR gene as NTD risk factors.
Methods:
Case-control and family-based tests of association were used to screen common variation in TCblR as genetic risk factors for NTDs in a large Irish group. A confirmatory group of NTD triads was used to test positive findings.
Results:
We found two tightly linked variants associated with NTDs in a recessive model: TCblR rs2336573 (G220R) (pcorr=0.0080, corrected for multiple hypothesis testing) and TCblR rs9426 (pcorr =0. 0279). These variants were also associated with NTDs in a family-based test prior to multiple test correction (log-linear analysis of a recessive model: rs2336573 (G220R) (RR=6.59, p=0.0037) and rs9426 (RR=6.71, p=0.0035)). We describe a copy number variant (CNV) distal to TCblR and two previously unreported exonic insertion-deletion polymorphisms.
Conclusions:
TCblR rs2336573 (G220R) and TCblR rs9426 represent a significant risk factor in NTD cases in the Irish population. The homozygous risk genotype was not detected in nearly one thousand controls, indicating this NTD risk factor may be of low frequency and high penetrance. Nine other variants are in perfect LD with the associated SNPs. Additional work is required to identify the disease-causing variant. Our data suggest that variation in TCblR plays a role in NTD risk and that these variants may modulate cobalamin metabolism.
doi:10.1136/jmg.2009.073775
PMCID: PMC4112773  PMID: 20577008
neural tube defects; spina bifida; transcobalamin II receptor (TCblR); cobalamin; vitamin B12; copy number variant (CNV)
8.  Gene–gene interaction in folate-related genes and risk of neural tube defects in a UK population 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2004;41(4):256-260.
Objective: To investigate the contribution of polymorphic variation in genes involved in the folate-dependent homocysteine pathway in the aetiology of neural tube defects (NTD).
Design: Case-control association study.
Subjects: A total of 530 individuals from families affected by NTD, 645 maternal controls, and 602 healthy newborn controls from the northern UK.
Main outcome measures: Seven polymorphisms in six genes coding for proteins in the folate-dependent homocysteine pathway (MTHFR 677C→T, MTHFR 1298A→C, MTRR 66A→G, SHMT 1420C→T, CßS 844ins68, GCPII 1561C→T, RFC-1 80G→A). The impact of each polymorphism and the effect of gene–gene interactions (epistasis) upon risk of NTD were assessed using logistic regression analysis.
Results: The MTHFR 677C→T polymorphism was shown to represent a risk factor in NTD cases (CC v CT+TT odds ratio (OR) 2.03 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.09, 3.79] p = 0.025) and the MTRR 66A→G polymorphism was shown to exert a protective effect in NTD cases (AA v AG+GG OR 0.31 [95% CI 0.10, 0.94] p = 0.04). When statistical tests for interaction were conducted, three genotype combinations in cases (MTRR/GCPII; MTHFR 677/CßS; MTHFR 677/MTRR) and one combination in case mothers (CßS/RFC-1) were shown to elevate NTD risk. Maternal–fetal interaction was also detected when offspring carried the MTHFR 677C→T variant and mothers carried the MTRR 66A→G variant, resulting in a significantly elevated risk of NTD.
Conclusion: Both independent genetic effects and gene–gene interaction were observed in relation to NTD risk. Multi-locus rather than single locus analysis might be preferable to gain an accurate assessment of genetic susceptibility to NTD.
doi:10.1136/jmg.2003.010694
PMCID: PMC1735724  PMID: 15060097
9.  Association between MTHFD1 G1958A Polymorphism and Neural Tube Defects Susceptibility: A Meta-Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e101169.
Objectives
The methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase (MTHFD1) gene, as one of the key genes involved in the folate pathway, has been reported to play a critical role in the pathogenesis of neural tube defects (NTDs). However, the results of published studies are contradictory and inconclusive. Thus, this meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the effect of the common polymorphism in the MTHFD1 gene, the G1958A (R653Q, dbSNP ID: rs2236225) variant, on the risk of NTDs in all eligible studies.
Methods
Relevant literature published before January 3, 2014 was retrieved from the MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, and CBM databases. Pooled crude odds ratios (ORs) and their corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated to evaluate the association between the MTHFD1 G1958A polymorphism and NTDs risk.
Results
We performed a meta-analysis of nine studies with a total of 4,302 NTDs patients and 4,238 healthy controls. Our results demonstrated a significant correlation between the MTHFD1 G1958A polymorphism and NTDs in an overall meta-analysis. For family-based studies, the study subjects were classified as NTD cases, mothers with NTDs offspring, and fathers with NTDs offspring. We found no association between any of the fathers’ genotypes and NTDs, whereas there was a clear excess of the 1958A allele in the mothers of children with NTDs compared with controls individuals.
Conclusions
In summary, our meta-analysis strongly suggests that the MTHFD1 G1958A polymorphism might be associated with maternal risk for NTDs in Caucasian populations. However, the evidence of this association should be interpreted with caution due to the selective nature of publication of genetic association studies.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101169
PMCID: PMC4076264  PMID: 24977710
10.  Caffeine, Selected Metabolic Gene Variants, and Risk for Neural Tube Defects 
Background
Investigations of maternal caffeine intake and neural tube defects (NTDs) have not considered genetic influences. Caffeine metabolism gene effects were examined in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.
Methods
Average daily caffeine was summed from self-reported coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate intake for mothers of 768 NTD cases and 4143 controls delivered from 1997–2002. A subset of 306 NTD and 669 control infants and their parents were genotyped for CYP1A2*1F, NAT2 481C>T and NAT2 590G>A. CYP1A2*1F was classified by fast or slow oxidation status and NAT2 variants were categorized into rapid or slow acetylation status. Case-control logistic regression analyses, family-based transmission/disequilibrium tests and log-linear analyses, and hybrid log-linear analyses were conducted to produce odds ratios (OR) or relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for caffeine intake and maternal and infant gene variants, and to examine interaction effects.
Results
NTDs were independently associated with infant slow NAT2 acetylator status (RR: 2.00, 95% CI: 1.10–3.64) and maternal CYP1A2*1F fast oxidation status (OR: 1.49 95% CI: 1.10–2.03). Caffeine-consuming mothers who were CYP1A2*1F fast oxidizers and NAT2 slow acetylators had non-significantly elevated estimated risk for an NTD-affected pregnancy (OR: 3.10 95% CI: 0.86–11.21). Multiplicative interaction effects were observed between maternal caffeine and infant CYP1A2*1F fast oxidizer status (pinteraction = 0.03).
Conclusions
The association identified between maternal CYP1A2*1F fast oxidation status and NTDs should be examined further in the context of CYP1A2’s other substrates. Maternal caffeine and its metabolites may be associated with increased risk for NTD-affected pregnancies in genetically susceptible subgroups.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20681
PMCID: PMC2917796  PMID: 20641098
Caffeine; Gene-environment Interaction, Effect Modification; Cytochrome P450 CYP1A2; N-Acetyltransferase NAT2; Embryo, Mammalian; Metabolism; Maternal Exposure/*adverse effects; Neural Tube Defects; Spinal Dysraphism; Encephalocele
11.  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
12.  Absence of linkage between familial neural tube defects and PAX3 gene. 
Journal of Medical Genetics  1995;32(3):200-204.
Neural tube defects (NTD) are among the most common and disabling birth defects. The aetiology of NTD is unknown and their genetics are complex. The majority of NTD cases are sporadic, isolated, nonsyndromic, and generally considered to be multifactorial in origin. Recently, PAX3 (formerly HuP2, the human homologue of mouse Pax-3), on chromosome 2q35-37, was suggested as a candidate gene for NTD because mutations of Pax-3 cause the mouse mutant Splotch (Sp), an animal model for human NTD. Mutations in PAX3 were also identified in patients with Waardenburg syndrome type 1 (WS1). At least eight patients with both WS1 and NTD have been described suggesting pleiotropy or a contiguous gene syndrome. Seventeen US families and 14 Dutch families with more than one affected person with NTD were collected and 194 people (50 affected) from both data sets were genotyped using the PAX3 polymorphic marker. The data were analysed using affecteds only linkage analysis. The lod scores were -7.30 (US), -3.74 (Dutch), and -11.04 (combined) at theta = 0.0, under the assumption of the autosomal dominant model. For the recessive model, the lod scores were -3.30 (US), -1.46 (Dutch), and -4.76 (combined) at theta = 0.0. Linkage between PAX3 and familial NTD was excluded to 9.9 cM on either side of the gene for the dominant model and to 3.63 cM on either side of the gene for the recessive model in the families studied. No evidence of heterogeneity was detected using the HOMOG program. Our data indicate that PAX3 is not a major gene for NTD.
PMCID: PMC1050317  PMID: 7783169
13.  Lamin B1 Polymorphism Influences Morphology of the Nuclear Envelope, Cell Cycle Progression, and Risk of Neural Tube Defects in Mice 
PLoS Genetics  2012;8(11):e1003059.
Neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida and anencephaly, are common birth defects whose complex multigenic causation has hampered efforts to delineate their molecular basis. The effect of putative modifier genes in determining NTD susceptibility may be investigated in mouse models, particularly those that display partial penetrance such as curly tail, a strain in which NTDs result from a hypomorphic allele of the grainyhead-like-3 gene. Through proteomic analysis, we found that the curly tail genetic background harbours a polymorphic variant of lamin B1, lacking one of a series of nine glutamic acid residues. Lamins are intermediate filament proteins of the nuclear lamina with multiple functions that influence nuclear structure, cell cycle properties, and transcriptional regulation. Fluorescence loss in photobleaching showed that the variant lamin B1 exhibited reduced stability in the nuclear lamina. Genetic analysis demonstrated that the variant also affects neural tube closure: the frequency of spina bifida and anencephaly was reduced three-fold when wild-type lamin B1 was bred into the curly tail strain background. Cultured fibroblasts expressing variant lamin B1 show significantly increased nuclear dysmorphology and diminished proliferative capacity, as well as premature senescence, associated with reduced expression of cyclins and Smc2, and increased expression of p16. The cellular basis of spinal NTDs in curly tail embryos involves a proliferation defect localised to the hindgut epithelium, and S-phase progression was diminished in the hindgut of embryos expressing variant lamin B1. These observations indicate a mechanistic link between altered lamin B1 function, exacerbation of the Grhl3-mediated cell proliferation defect, and enhanced susceptibility to NTDs. We conclude that lamin B1 is a modifier gene of major effect for NTDs resulting from loss of Grhl3 function, a role that is likely mediated via the key function of lamin B1 in maintaining integrity of the nuclear envelope and ensuring normal cell cycle progression.
Author Summary
Failure of early development of the central nervous system leads to severe malformations termed neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida and anencephaly. Inherited genetic risk factors play a major role in determining susceptibility to NTDs, but causative genes have proven difficult to identify. In this study we investigated genetic factors that could alter the risk of NTDs in an established mouse model, curly tail, in which defects result from partial loss of function of the grainyhead-like-3 (Grhl3) gene. We identified a variant of lamin B1, a key protein component of the envelope that surrounds the cell nucleus. The protein alteration reduces the structural integrity of the nuclear envelope, causes the nuclei to have altered shape, and reduces the rate of cell division. Curly tail embryos that carry the “abnormal” lamin B1 variant develop NTDs at three times the rate of those that carry the normal version. We conclude that lamin B1 function influences risk of NTDs due to effects on cell proliferation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1003059
PMCID: PMC3499363  PMID: 23166514
14.  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
15.  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
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.  Recommendations on the use of folic acid supplementation to prevent the recurrence of neural tube defects. Clinical Teratology Committee, Canadian College of Medical Geneticists. 
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.
PMCID: PMC1485706  PMID: 8221478
18.  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
19.  A randomised trial of low dose folic acid to prevent neural tube defects. The Irish Vitamin Study Group. 
Archives of Disease in Childhood  1992;67(12):1442-1446.
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.
PMCID: PMC1793975  PMID: 1489222
20.  Neural tube defects – disorders of neurulation and related embryonic processes 
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are severe congenital malformations affecting 1 in every 1000 pregnancies. ‘Open’ NTDs result from failure of primary neurulation as seen in anencephaly, myelomeningocele (open spina bifida) and craniorachischisis. Degeneration of the persistently open neural tube in utero leads to loss of neurological function below the lesion level. ‘Closed’ NTDs are skin-covered disorders of spinal cord structure, ranging from asymptomatic spina bifida occulta to severe spinal cord tethering, and usually traceable to disruption of secondary neurulation. ‘Herniation’ NTDs are those in which meninges, with or without brain or spinal cord tissue, become exteriorised through a pathological opening in the skull or vertebral column (e.g. encephalocele and meningocele). NTDs have multifactorial etiology, with genes and environmental factors interacting to determine individual risk of malformation. While over 200 mutant genes cause open NTDs in mice, much less is known about the genetic causation of human NTDs. Recent evidence has implicated genes of the planar cell polarity signalling pathway in a proportion of cases. The embryonic development of NTDs is complex, with diverse cellular and molecular mechanisms operating at different levels of the body axis. Molecular regulatory events include the BMP and Sonic hedgehog pathways which have been implicated in control of neural plate bending. Primary prevention of NTDs has been implemented clinically following the demonstration that folic acid, when taken as a peri-conceptional supplement, can prevent many cases. Not all NTDs respond to folic acid, however, and adjunct therapies are required for prevention of this folic acid-resistant category.
doi:10.1002/wdev.71
PMCID: PMC4023228  PMID: 24009034
21.  Epigenetic Profiles in Children with a Neural Tube Defect; A Case-Control Study in Two Populations 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e78462.
Folate deficiency is implicated in the causation of neural tube defects (NTDs). The preventive effect of periconceptional folic acid supplement use is partially explained by the treatment of a deranged folate-dependent one carbon metabolism, which provides methyl groups for DNA-methylation as an epigenetic mechanism. Here, we hypothesize that variations in DNA-methylation of genes implicated in the development of NTDs and embryonic growth are part of the underlying mechanism. In 48 children with a neural tube defect and 62 controls from a Dutch case-control study and 34 children with a neural tube defect and 78 controls from a Texan case-control study, we measured the DNA-methylation levels of imprinted candidate genes (IGF2-DMR, H19, KCNQ1OT1) and non-imprinted genes (the LEKR/CCNL gene region associated with birth weight, and MTHFR and VANGL1 associated with NTD). We used the MassARRAY EpiTYPER assay from Sequenom for the assessment of DNA-methylation. Linear mixed model analysis was used to estimate associations between DNA-methylation levels of the genes and a neural tube defect. In the Dutch study group, but not in the Texan study group we found a significant association between the risk of having an NTD and DNA methylation levels of MTHFR (absolute decrease in methylation of −0.33% in cases, P-value = 0.001), and LEKR/CCNL (absolute increase in methylation: 1.36% in cases, P-value = 0.048), and a borderline significant association for VANGL (absolute increase in methylation: 0.17% in cases, P-value = 0.063). Only the association between MTHFR and NTD-risk remained significant after multiple testing correction. The associations in the Dutch study were not replicated in the Texan study. We conclude that the associations between NTDs and the methylation of the MTHFR gene, and maybe VANGL and LEKKR/CNNL, are in line with previous studies showing polymorphisms in the same genes in association with NTDs and embryonic development, respectively.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0078462
PMCID: PMC3818348  PMID: 24223810
22.  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
23.  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
24.  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
25.  Genetic Association Analyses of Nitric Oxide Synthase Genes and Neural Tube Defects Vary by Phenotype 
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are caused by improper neural tube closure during the early stages of embryonic development. NTDs are hypothesized to have a complex genetic origin and numerous candidate genes have been proposed. The nitric oxide synthase 3 (NOS3) G594T polymorphism has been implicated in risk for spina bifida, and interactions between that single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) C677T polymorphism have also been observed. To evaluate other genetic variation in the NO pathway in the development of NTDs, we examined all three NOS genes: NOS1, NOS2, and NOS3. Using 3109 Caucasian samples in 745 families, we evaluated association in the overall dataset and within specific phenotypic subsets. Haplotype tagging SNPs in the NOS genes were tested for genetic association with NTD subtypes, both for main effects as well as for the presence of interactions with the MTHFR C677T polymorphism. Nominal main effect associations were found with all subtypes, across all three NOS genes, and interactions were observed between SNPs in all three NOS genes and MTHFR C677T. Unlike the previous report, the most significant associations in our dataset were with cranial subtypes and the AG genotype of rs4795067 in NOS2 (p = 0.0014) and the interaction between the rs9658490 G allele in NOS1 and MTHFR 677TT genotype (p = 0.0014). Our data extend the previous findings by implicating a role for all three NOS genes, independently and through interactions with MTHFR, in risk not only for spina bifida, but all NTD subtypes.
doi:10.1002/bdrb.21079
PMCID: PMC4169175  PMID: 24323870
NOS1; NOS2; NOS3; MTHFR; neural tube defect; NTD; anencephaly; spina bifida

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