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
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.
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.
Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene mutations have been implicated as risk factors for neural tube defects (NTDs). The best-characterized MTHFR genetic mutation 677C→T is associated with a 2–4 fold increased risk of NTD if patient is homozygous for this mutation. This risk factor is modulated by folate levels in the body. A second mutation in the MTHFR gene is an A→C transition at position 1298. The 1298A→C mutation is also a risk factor for NTD, but with a smaller relative risk than 677C→T mutation. Under conditions of low folate intake or high folate requirements, such as pregnancy, this mutation could become of clinical importance. We present a case report with MTHFR genetic mutation, who presented with recurrent familial pregnancy losses due to anencephaly/NTDs.
Folate; methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene mutation; neural tube defects
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.
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.
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.
neural tube defects; folate metabolism; DHFR 19bp deletion; MTHFD1 1958G>A; MTHFR 1298A>C; MTHFR 677C>T; SLC19A1 80A>G; maternal inheritance
Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). While periconceptional folic acid supplementation is known to significantly reduce the risk of NTDs, folate metabolic pathway related factors do not account for all NTDs. Evidence from mouse models indicates that the tumor protein p53 (TP53) is involved in implantation and normal neural tube development. To determine whether genetic variation in the TP53 might contribute to NTD risk in humans, we constructed a high resolution linkage disequilibrium (LD) map of the TP53 genomic region based on genotyping 21 markers in an Irish population. We found that nine of these variants can be used to capture the majority of common variation in the TP53 genomic region. In contrast, the 3-marker haplotype commonly reported in the TP53 literature offers limited coverage of the variation in the gene. We used the expanded set of polymorphisms to measure the influence of TP53 on NTDs using both case-control and family-based tests of association. We also assayed a functional variant in the p53 regulator MDM2 (rs2279744). Alleles of three noncoding TP53 markers were associated with NTD risk. A case effect was seen with the GG genotype of rs1625895 in intron 6 (OR = 1.37 [1.04-1.79], p=0.02). A maternal effect was seen with the 135/135 genotype of the intron 1 VNTR (OR = 1.86 [1.16-2.96], p=0.01) and the TT genotype of rs1614984 (RR = 0.58 [0.37-0.91], p=0.02). As multiple comparisons were made, these cannot be considered definitive positive findings and additional investigation is required.
neural tube defects; spina bifida; p53; TP53; MDM2; linkage disequilibrium
Polymorphisms in folate-related genes have emerged as important risk factors in a range of diseases including neural tube defects (NTDs), cancer and coronary artery disease (CAD). Having previously identified a polymorphism within the cytoplasmic folate enzyme, MTHFD1, as a maternal risk factor for NTDs; we considered the more recently identified mitochondrial paralogue, MTHFD1L as a candidate gene for NTD association. We identified a common deletion/insertion polymorphism, rs3832406, c.781-6823ATT(7-9), that influences splicing efficiency and is strongly associated with NTD risk. Three alleles of rs3832406 were detected in the Irish population with varying number of ATT repeats; Allele 1 consists of ATT7, while Alleles 2 and 3 consist of ATT8 and ATT9 respectively. Allele 2 of this triallelic polymorphism showed a decreased case risk as demonstrated by case-control logistic regression (P= 0.002) and by transmission disequilibrium test (TDT) (P= 0.001); while Allele 1 showed an increased case risk. Allele 3 showed no influence on NTD risk and represents the lowest frequency allele (0.15). Additional SNP genotyping in the same genomic region provides additional supportive evidence of an association. We demonstrate that two of the three alleles of rs3832406 are functionally different and influence the splicing efficiency of the alternate MTHFD1L mRNA transcripts.
MTHFD1L; NTD; Splicing; Polymorphism; Association; Folate; Mitochondria
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Maternal nutritional status has been evaluated to clarify its role in development of neural tube defects (NTDs). Maternal folate intake during pregnancy has been closely evaluated for its association with NTDs.
The study objective was to examine associations between NTDs and other dietary periconceptional micronutrient intake, particularly nutrients involved in one-carbon metabolism or antioxidant activity.
Using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, 1997–2005, logistic regression models were used to estimate the relative risk of NTDs based on maternal micronutrient intake.
Results were stratified according to folic acid supplement use, race/ethnicity, and maternal body mass index. Analyses included 954 cases (300 with anencephaly, 654 with spina bifida) and 6268 controls. Higher intakes of folate, thiamin, betaine, iron, and vitamin A were associated with decreased risk of anencephaly among some ethnic and clinical groups. In some groups, higher intakes of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, and retinol were associated with decreased risk of spina bifida.
In addition to folic acid, other micronutrients, including thiamin, betaine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, iron, retinol, and vitamin A, may decrease the risk of NTD occurrence.
Dietary periconceptional micronutrients; maternal nutrition; National Birth Defects Prevention Study; neural tube defects; one-carbon metabolism
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
neural tube defects; spina bifida; UCP2; obesity
Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) are among the most prevalent and most severe congenital malformations worldwide. Polymorphisms in key genes involving the folate pathway have been reported to be associated with the risk of NTDs. However, the results from these published studies are conflicting. We surveyed the literature (1996–2011) and performed a comprehensive meta-analysis to provide empirical evidence on the association.
Methods and Findings
We investigated the effects of 5 genetic variants from 47 study populations, for a total of 85 case-control comparisons MTHFR C677T (42 studies; 4374 cases, 7232 controls), MTHFR A1298C (22 studies; 2602 cases, 4070 controls), MTR A2756G (9 studies; 843 cases, 1006 controls), MTRR A66G (8 studies; 703 cases, 1572 controls), and RFC-1 A80G (4 studies; 1107 cases, 1585 controls). We found a convincing evidence of dominant effects of MTHFR C677T (OR 1.23; 95%CI 1.07–1.42) and suggestive evidence of RFC-1 A80G (OR 1.55; 95%CI 1.24–1.92). However, we found no significant effects of MTHFR A1298C, MTR A2756G, MTRR A66G in risk of NTDs in dominant, recessive or in allelic models.
Our meta-analysis strongly suggested a significant association of the variant MTHFR C677T and a suggestive association of RFC-1 A80G with increased risk of NTDs. However, other variants involved in folate pathway do not demonstrate any evidence for a significant marginal association on susceptibility to NTDs.
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
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.
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.
The pathogenesis of human spontaneous abortion involves a complex interaction of several genetic and environmental factors. The firm association between increased homocysteine concentration and neural tube defects (NTD) has led to the hypothesis that high concentrations of homocysteine might be embryotoxic and lead to decreased fetal viability. There are several genetic polymorphisms that are associated with defects in folate- and vitamin B12-dependent homocysteine metabolism. The methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) 677C>T and 1298A>C polymorphisms cause elevated homocysteine concentration and are associated with an increased risk of NTD. Additionally, low concentration of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) or transcobalamin that delivers vitamin B12 to the cells of the body leads to hyperhomocysteinemia and is associated with NTD. This effect involves the transcobalamin (TC) 776C>G polymorphism. Importantly, the biochemical consequences of these polymorphisms can be modified by folate and vitamin B12 supplementation. In this review, I focus on recent studies on the role of hyperhomocysteinemia-associated polymorphisms in the pathogenesis of human spontaneous abortion and discuss the possibility that periconceptional supplementation with folate and vitamin B12 might lower the incidence of miscarriage in women planning a pregnancy.
Periconceptional use of folic acid prevents most neural tube defects (NTDs). Whether folic acid and/or multivitamins can prevent other congenital anomalies is not clear. This study tested whether maternal blood levels of folate and vitamin B12 in pregnancies affected by congenital malformations excluding NTDs are lower when compared to non-affected pregnancies.
We measured pregnancy red cell folate (RCF), vitamin B12, and homocysteine (tHcy) concentrations in blood samples taken at the first antenatal clinic in Dublin maternity hospitals in 1986–1990 when vitamin supplementation was rare. The cases were mothers who delivered a baby with a congenital malformation other than NTD identified by the Dublin EUROCAT Registry; controls were a systematic sample of mothers of offspring without congenital malformations from the same hospitals in the same time period.
The median maternal levels of RCF and tHcy did not differ significantly between cases and controls for any of the congenital malformation groups examined (RCF: all malformations 275.9 ug/L v controls 271.2; p=0.77; tHcy: all malformations 7.5 umol/L v controls 7.6; p=0.57). In an unadjusted analysis vitamin B12 was significantly higher in case-mothers whose babies had cleft palate only (p=0.006), musculoskeletal malformations (p=0.034) and midline defects (p=0.039) but not after adjustment for multiple testing.
Our data suggest that low maternal folate and B12 levels or high tHcy levels in early pregnancy are not associated with all congenital malformations excluding NTDs. Fortification with folic acid or B12 may not have a beneficial effect in the prevention of these anomalies.
Several conditions apparent at birth, e.g., neural tube defects (NTDs) and cardiac anomalies, are associated with polymorphisms in folate-related genes, such as the 677C → T polymorphism of the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene. Similar associations have been established for several constitutional chronic diseases in adulthood, such as schizophrenia, cardiovascular diseases, dementia, and even neoplasias in different organ systems. This spectrum of developmental anomalies and constitutional diseases may be linked to high-risk conceptions related to preovulatory overripeness ovopathy (PrOO). Some developmental anomalies, such as NTDs, are to a large extent prevented by supplementation of folic acid before conception, but supplementation does not seem to prevent cardiovascular disease or cognitive decline. These diverging results can be elucidated by introduction of the PrOO concept, as MTHFR polymorphisms and inherent low folate levels induce both non-optimal maturation of the oocyte and unsuccessful DNA methylation and demethylation, i.e. epigenetic mutations. The PrOO concept is testable and predicts in a random population the following: (1) female carriers of specific genetic MTHFR variants exhibit more ovulatory disturbances and inherent subfecundity traits, (2) descendents from a carrier mother, when compared with those from a wild-type mother, are more frequently conceived in PrOO high-risk conditions and, thus, (3) disadvantaged in life expectancy. If so, some MTHFR polymorphisms represent a novel, genetically determined, PrOO high-risk conception category comparable to those which are environmentally and behaviorly influenced. These high-risk conditions may cause developmental anomalies and defective epigenetic reprogramming in progeny. The interaction between genetic and environmental factors is a plausible mechanism of multifactorial inheritance.