Both a lack of maternal folic acid supplementation and the presence of genetic variants that reduce enzyme activity in folate pathway genes have been linked to meiotic nondisjunction of chromosome 21; however, the findings in this area of research have been inconsistent. To better understand these inconsistencies, we asked whether maternal use of a folic acid-containing supplement before conception reduces risk for chromosome 21 nondisjunction. Using questionnaire data from the National Down Syndrome Project, a population-based case-control study, we compared the use of folic acid-containing supplements among mothers of infants with full trisomy 21 due to maternal nondisjunction (n=702) and mothers of infants born with no major birth defects (n=983). Using logistic regression, adjusting for maternal age, race/ethnicity, and infant age at maternal interview, we found no evidence of an association between lack of folic acid supplementation and maternal nondisjunction among all case mothers (OR=1.16; 95% CI: 0.90–1.48). In analyses stratified by meiotic stage and maternal age (<35 years or ≥ 35 years), we found an association among older mothers experiencing meiosis II nondisjunction errors (OR=2.00; 95% CI: 1.08–3.71). These data suggest that lack of folic acid supplementation may be associated specifically with MII errors in the aging oocyte. If confirmed, these results could account for inconsistencies among previous studies, as each study sample may vary by maternal age structure and proportion of meiotic errors.
Down syndrome; Trisomy 21; Aneuploidy; Nondisjunction; Chromosome segregation; Folic acid; Meiosis
Initial reports suggested that children conceived with assisted reproductive technologies (ART) may be at increased risk for a spectrum of developmental disabilities. Evolving evidence suggests that some of the early risks may have been overstated when not taking plurality of birth or gestational age at delivery into consideration, since both are independent risk factors for neurodevelopmental disabilities arising from alterations in structure and function or limitations in activities. Continued research is needed to overcome lingering data gaps in light of the equivocal literature for many neurodevelopmental disabilities relative to ART, increasing utilization of services and changes in the clinical management of infecund couples such as the adoption of natural cycles or in vitro maturation treatment options. Population-based cohorts with longitudinal assessment of the multifaceted nature of neurodevelopment across critical and sensitive windows is paramount for the development of empirically based guidance for clinical and population health.
Assisted reproductive technology; children; epidemiology; neurodevelopment; impairments
The cardiometabolic health of children conceived by assisted reproductive technologies (ART) compared with children conceived without medical assistance is unclear. Although the majority of published studies evaluating height, weight, and body mass index have not found differences by method of conception, some studies have indicated differences in adiposity by more direct measures such as skinfolds and dual X-ray absorptiometry. Far fewer studies have investigated other cardiometabolic characteristics, such as blood pressure and measures of lipid and glucose metabolism. Of these studies, some indications of increased blood pressure and recent findings of vascular dysfunction among children conceived by ART compared with children conceived without ART warrant further investigation. Epigenetic differences may be the global mechanism at work, resulting from different aspects of ART treatment, such as ovarian stimulation, in vitro culture, and manipulation of sperm, among other considerations. Fetal growth and placental development may serve as mediators of these effects. Future studies should consider recruiting sufficient numbers of ART and non-ART conceived multiples and collect information on indicators of cardiometabolic health in the parents. Despite some advantages of sibling cohorts in developmental origins research, its feasibility and utility for investigating health of children conceived by ART remains debatable.
Cardiometabolic risk; assisted reproductive technology; in vitro fertilization; intracytoplasmic sperm injection; children; growth; adiposity; glucose; blood pressure
Anorectal atresia is a serious birth defect of largely unknown etiology but candidate genes have been identified in animal studies and human syndromes. Because alterations in the activity of these genes might lead to anorectal atresia, we selected 71 common variants predicted to be in transcription factor binding sites, CpG windows, splice sites, and miRNA target sites of 25 candidate genes, and tested for their association with anorectal atresia. The study population comprised 150 anorectal atresia cases and 623 control infants without major malformations. Variants predicted to affect transcription factor binding, splicing, and DNA methylation in WNT3A, PCSK5, TCF4, MKKS, GLI2, HOXD12, and BMP4 were associated with anorectal atresia based on a nominal P value <0.05. The GLI2 and BMP4 variants are reported to be moderately associated with gene expression changes (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between −0.260 and 0.226). We did not find evidence for interaction between maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and variants in MKKS, a gene previously associated with obesity, on the risk of anorectal atresia. Our results for MKKS support previously suggested associations with anorectal malformations. Our findings suggest that more research is needed to determine whether altered GLI2 and BMP4 expression is important in anorectal atresia in humans.
anorectal malformations; imperforate anus; hindgut; congenital abnormalities
Association between the C677T polymorphism of the methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene and congenital heart disease (CHD) is contentious.
Methods and Results
We compared genotypes between CHD cases and controls, and between mothers of CHD cases and controls. We placed our results in context by conducting metaanalyses of previously published studies. Among 5,814 cases with primary genotype data and 10,056 controls, there was no evidence of association between MTHFR C677T genotype and CHD risk (OR 0.96 [95% CI 0.87-1.07]). A random-effects meta-analysis of all studies (involving 7,697 cases and 13,125 controls) suggested the presence of association (OR 1.25 [95% CI 1.03-1.51]; p=0.022), but with substantial heterogeneity among contributing studies (I2=64.4%), and evidence of publication bias. Meta-analysis of large studies only (defined by a variance of the log OR less than 0.05), which together contributed 83% of all cases, yielded no evidence of association (OR 0.97 [95% CI 0.91-1.03]), without significant heterogeneity (I2=0). Moreover, meta-analysis of 1,781 mothers of CHD cases (829 of whom were genotyped in this study) and 19,861 controls revealed no evidence of association between maternal C677T genotype and risk of CHD in offspring (OR 1.13 [95% CI 0.87-1.47]). There was no significant association between MTHFR genotype and CHD risk in large studies from regions with different levels of dietary folate.
The MTHFR C677T polymorphism, which directly influences plasma folate levels, is not associated with CHD risk. Publication biases appear to substantially contaminate the literature with regard to this genetic association.
congenital heart disease; MTHFR; genetic association; folate; Mendelian randomization
This study further examined the association between selected maternal occupations and a variety of birth defects identified from prior analysis and explored the effect of work hours and number of jobs held and potential interaction between folic acid and occupation. Data from a population-based, multi-center case-control study was used. Analyses included 45 major defects and specific sub-occupations under five occupational groups: healthcare workers, cleaners, scientists, teachers and personal service workers. Both logistic regression and Bayesian models (to minimize type-1 errors) were used, adjusted for potential confounders. Effect modification by folic acid was also assessed. More than any other occupation, nine different defects were positively associated with maids or janitors [odds ratio (OR) range: 1.72-3.99]. Positive associations were also seen between the following maternal occupations and defects in their children (OR range: 1.35-3.48): chemists/conotruncal heart and neural tube defects (NTDs), engineers/conotruncal defects, preschool teachers/cataracts and cleft lip with/without cleft palate (CL/P), entertainers/athletes/gastroschisis, and nurses/hydrocephalus and left ventricular outflow tract heart defects. Non-preschool teachers had significantly lower odds of oral clefts and gastroschisis in their offspring (OR range: 0.53-0.76). There was a suggestion that maternal folic acid use modified the effects with occupations including lowering the risk of NTDs and CL/P. No consistent patterns were found between maternal work hours or multiple jobs by occupation and the risk of birth defects. Overall, mothers working as maids, janitors, biologists, chemists, engineers, nurses, entertainers, child care workers and preschool teachers had increased risks of several malformations and non-preschool teachers had a lower risk of some defects. Maternal folic acid use reduced the odds of NTDs and CL/P among those with certain occupations. This hypothesis-generating study will provide clues for future studies with better exposure data.
occupation; birth defects; folic acid
We conducted a population-based case-control study of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in selected genes to find common variants that play a role in the etiology of limb deficiencies (LD)s. Included in the study were 389 infants with LDs of unknown cause and 980 unaffected controls selected from all births in New York State (NYS) for the years 1998 to 2005. We used cases identified from the NYS Department of Health (DOH) Congenital Malformations Registry. Genotypes were obtained for 132 SNPs in genes involved in limb development (SHH, WNT7A, FGF4, FGF8, FGF10, TBX3, TBX5, SALL4, GREM1, GDF5, CTNNB1, EN1, CYP26A1, CYP26B1), angiogenesis (VEGFA, HIF1A, NOS3), and coagulation (F2, F5, MTHFR). Genotype call rates were >97% and SNPs were tested for departure from Hardy-Weinberg expectations by race/ethnic subgroups. For each SNP, odds ratios (OR)s and confidence intervals (CI)s were estimated and corrected for multiple comparisons for all LDs combined and for LD subtypes. Among non-Hispanic white infants, associations between FGF10 SNPs rs10805683 and rs13170645 and all LDs combined were statistically significant following correction for multiple testing (OR=1.99; 95% CI=1.43-2.77; uncorrected p=0.000043 for rs10805683 heterozygous genotype, and OR=2.37; 95% CI=1.48-3.78; uncorrected p=0.00032 for rs13170645 homozygous minor genotype). We also observed suggestive evidence for associations with SNPs in other genes including CYP26B1 and WNT7A. Animal studies have shown that FGF10 induces formation of the apical ectodermal ridge and is necessary for limb development. Our data suggest that common variants in FGF10 increase the risk for a wide range of non-syndromic limb deficiencies.
limb deficiencies; polymorphisms; FGF10
We investigated the prevalence of congenital renal and urologic anomalies in children with congenital hypothyroidism to determine whether further renal and urologic investigations would be of benefit.
Prevalence of congenital hypothyroidism was obtained from the New York State Congenital Malformation Registry. The occurrence of urinary tract anomalies were calculated for children with congenital hypothyroidism and compared to children without congenital hypothyroidism. In addition we obtained congenital hypothyroidism data from New York State newborn screening, and the cases were matched to Congenital Malformation Registry.
Analysis of Congenital Malformation Registry data showed 980 children with congenital hypothyroidism and 3 661 585 children without congenital hypothyroidism born in New York State (1992-2005). Children with congenital hypothyroidism have a significantly increased risk of congenital renal and urological anomalies with the odds ratio (OR) of 13.2 (10.6-16.5). The other significantly increased defects in congenital hypothyroidism were cardiac, gastrointestinal, and skeletal. Analysis of matched data confirmed an increase of congenital renal and urologic anomalies with OR of 4.8 (3.7-6.3).
Children with congenital hypothyroidism have an increased prevalence of congenital renal and urologic anomalies. We suggest that these children should be evaluated for the presence of congenital renal and urologic anomalies with renal ultrasonography, and that further studies of common genes involved in thyroid and kidney development are warranted.
Sagittal craniosynostosis is the most common form of craniosynostosis, affecting approximately one of 5,000 newborns. We conducted the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) for non-syndromic sagittal craniosynostosis (sNSC) using 130 non-Hispanic white (NHW) case-parent trios. Robust associations were observed in a 120 kb region downstream of BMP2, flanked by rs1884302 (P = 1.13 × 10−14; odds ratio [OR] = 4.58) and rs6140226 (P = 3.40 × 10−11; OR = 0.24) and within a 167 kb region of BBS9 between rs10262453 (P = 1.61 × 10−10; OR=0.19) and rs17724206 (P = 1.50 × 10−8; OR = 0.22). We replicated the associations to both loci [rs1884302 (P = 4.39 × 10−31); rs10262453 (P = 3.50 × 10−14)] in an independent NHW population of 172 unrelated sNSC probands and 548 controls. Both BMP2 and BBS9 are genes with a role in skeletal development warranting functional studies to further understand the etiology of sNSC.
genome-wide association study; non-syndromic sagittal craniosynostosis; BMP2; BBS9; meta-analysis; nonsyndromic
Hirschsprung’s disease (HSCR) results from failed colonization of the embryonic gut by enteric neural crest cells (ENCCs); colonization requires RET proto-oncogene (RET) signaling. We sequenced RET to identify coding and splice-site variants in a population-based case group and we tested for associations between HSCR and common variants in RET and candidate genes (ASCL1, HOXB5, L1CAM, PHOX2B, PROK1, PROKR1) chosen because they are involved in ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation in animal models. We conducted a nested case-control study of 304 HSCR cases and 1 215 controls. Among 38 (12.5%) cases with 34 RET coding and splice-site variants, 18 variants were previously unreported. We confirmed associations with common variants in HOXB5 and PHOX2B but the associations with variants in ASCL1, L1CAM, and PROK1 were not significant after multiple comparisons adjustment. RET variants were strongly associated with HSCR (P values between 10−3 and 10−31) but this differed by race/ethnicity: associations were absent in African-Americans. Our population-based study not only identified novel RET variants in HSCR cases, it showed that common RET variants may not contribute to HSCR in all race/ethnic groups. The findings for HOXB5 and PHOX2B provide supportive evidence that genes regulating ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation could be risk factors for HSCR.
congenital abnormalities; enteric nervous system; Hirschsprung disease; RET
The Muscular Dystrophy Surveillance Tracking and Research Network (MD STARnet) is a multisite collaboration to determine the prevalence of childhood-onset Duchenne/Becker muscular dystrophy and to characterize health care and health outcomes in this population. MD STARnet uses medical record abstraction to identify patients with Duchenne/Becker muscular dystrophy born January 1, 1982 or later who resided in one of the participating sites. Critical diagnostic elements of each abstracted record are reviewed independently by ≥4 clinicians and assigned to 1 of 6 case definition categories (definite, probable, possible, asymptomatic, female, not Duchenne/Becker muscular dystrophy) by consensus. As of November 2009, 815 potential cases were reviewed. Of the cases included in analysis, 674 (82%) were either “definite” or “probable” Duchenne/Becker muscular dystrophy. These data reflect a change in diagnostic testing, as case assignment based on genetic testing increased from 67% in the oldest cohort (born 1982–1987) to 94% in the cohort born 2004–2009.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy; Becker muscular dystrophy; diagnostic testing; dystrophin
Maternal folic acid supplementation has been associated with a reduced risk for neural tube defects, and may be associated with a reduced risk for congenital heart defects, and other birth defects. Individuals with Down syndrome are at high risk for congenital heart defects and have been shown to have abnormal folate metabolism.
As part of the population-based case-control National Down Syndrome Project, 1011 mothers of infants with Down syndrome reported their use of folic acid-containing supplements. These data were used to determine whether lack of periconceptional maternal folic acid supplementation is associated with congenital heart defects in Down syndrome. We used logistic regression to test the relationship between maternal folic acid supplementation and the frequency of specific heart defects correcting for maternal race/ethnicity, proband sex, maternal use of alcohol and cigarettes, and maternal age at conception.
Lack of maternal folic acid supplementation was more frequent among infants with Down syndrome and atrioventricular septal defects (OR=1.69; 95% CI, 1.08–2.63; P=0.011) or atrial septal defects (OR=1.69; 95% CI, 1.11–2.58; P=0.007) than among infants with Down syndrome and no heart defect. Preliminary evidence suggests that the patterns of association differ by race/ethnicity and sex of the proband. There was no statistically significant association with ventricular septal defects (OR=1.26; 95% CI, 0.85–1.87; P=0.124).
Our results suggest that lack of maternal folic acid supplementation is associated with septal defects in infants with Down syndrome.
Atrial septal defect; Atrioventricular septal defect; Congenital heart defect; Down syndrome; Folic acid
Many epidemiological and public health surveys report increasing difficulty obtaining high participation rates. We conducted a pilot follow-up study to determine whether a mailed or telephone survey would better facilitate data collection in a subset of respondents to an earlier telephone survey conducted as part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.
We randomly assigned 392 eligible mothers to receive a self-administered, mailed questionnaire (MQ) or a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) using similar recruitment protocols. If mothers gave permission to contact the fathers, fathers were recruited to complete the same instrument (MQ or CATI) as mothers.
Mothers contacted for the MQ, within all demographic strata examined, were more likely to participate than those contacted for the CATI (86.6% vs. 70.6%). The median response time for mothers completing the MQ was 17 days, compared to 29 days for mothers completing the CATI. Mothers completing the MQ also required fewer reminder calls or letters to finish participation versus those assigned to the CATI (median 3 versus 6), though they were less likely to give permission to contact the father (75.0% vs. 85.8%). Fathers contacted for the MQ, however, had higher participation compared to fathers contacted for the CATI (85.2% vs. 54.5%). Fathers recruited to the MQ also had a shorter response time (median 17 days) and required fewer reminder calls and letters (median 3 reminders) than those completing the CATI (medians 28 days and 6 reminders).
We concluded that offering a MQ substantially improved participation rates and reduced recruitment effort compared to a CATI in this study. While a CATI has the advantage of being able to clarify answers to complex questions or eligibility requirements, our experience suggests that a MQ might be a good survey option for some studies.
Both taking folic acid-containing vitamins around conception and consuming food fortified with folic acid have been reported to reduce omphalocele rates. Genetic factors are etiologically important in omphalocele as well; our pilot study showed a relationship with the folate metabolic enzyme gene methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). We studied 169 non-aneuploid omphalocele cases and 761 unaffected, matched controls from all New York State births occurring between 1998 and 2005 to look for associations with single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) known to be important in folate, vitamin B12, or choline metabolism. In the total study population, variants in the transcobalamin receptor gene (TCblR), rs2232775 (Q8R), and the MTHFR gene, rs1801131 (1298A>C), were significantly associated with omphalocele. In African-Americans significant associations were found with SNPs in genes for the vitamin B12 transporter (TCN2) and the vitamin B12 receptor (TCblR). A SNP in the homocysteine-related gene, betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase (BHMT), rs3733890 (R239Q), was significantly associated with omphalocele in both African-Americans and Asians. Only the TCblR association in the total population remained statistically significant if Bonferroni correction was applied. The finding that transcobalamin receptor (TCblR) and transporter (TCN2) SNPs and a BHMT SNP were associated with omphalocele suggests that disruption of methylation reactions, in which folate, vitamin B12, and homocysteine play critical parts, may be a risk factor for omphalocele. Our data, if confirmed, suggest that supplements containing both folic acid and vitamin B12 may be beneficial in preventing omphaloceles.
omphalocele; folate; vitamin B12; homocysteine; transcobalamin; transcobalamin receptor
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
Limited epidemiologic studies have examined the association between maternal low-level lead exposure [blood lead (PbB) < 10 μg/dL] and fetal growth.
We examined whether maternal low-level lead exposure is associated with decreased fetal growth.
We linked New York State Heavy Metals Registry records of women who had PbB measurements with birth certificates to identify 43,288 mother–infant pairs in upstate New York in a retrospective cohort study from 2003 through 2005. We used multiple linear regression with fractional polynomials and logistic regression to relate birth weight, preterm delivery, and small for gestational age to PbB levels, adjusting for potential confounders. We used a closed-test procedure to identify the best fractional polynomials for PbB among 44 combinations.
We found a statistically significant association between PbB (square root transformed) and birth weight. Relative to 0 μg/dL, PbBs of 5 and 10 μg/dL were associated with an average of 61-g and 87-g decrease in birth weight, respectively. The adjusted odds ratio for PbBs between 3.1 and 9.9 μg/dL (highest quartile) was 1.04 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.89–1.22] for preterm delivery and 1.07 (95% CI, 0.93–1.23) for small for gestational age, relative to PbBs ≤ 1 μg/dL (lowest quartile). No clear dose–response trends were evident when all of the quartiles were assessed.
Low-level PbB was associated with a small risk of decreased birth weight with a supralinear dose–response relationship, but was not related to preterm birth or small for gestational age. The results have important implications regarding maternal PbB.
birth weight; blood lead; epidemiology; fetal growth; low-level lead exposure; pregnancy; preterm birth; small for gestational age
We examined the association between maternal age and chromosome 21 nondisjunction by origin of the meiotic error. We analyzed data from two population-based, case–control studies: Atlanta Down Syndrome Project (1989–1999) and National Down Syndrome Project (2001–2004). Cases were live born infants with trisomy 21 and controls were infants without trisomy 21 delivered in the same geographical regions. We enrolled 1,215 of 1,881 eligible case families and 1,375 of 2,293 controls. We report four primary findings. First, the significant association between advanced maternal age and chromosome 21 nondisjunction was restricted to meiotic errors in the egg; the association was not observed in sperm or in post-zygotic mitotic errors. Second, advanced maternal age was significantly associated with both meiosis I (MI) and meiosis II (MII). For example, compared to mothers of controls, mothers of infants with trisomy 21 due to MI nondisjunction were 8.5 times more likely to be ≥40 years old than 20–24 years old at the birth of the index case (95% CI = 5.6–12.9). Where nondisjunction occurred in MII, mothers were 15.1 times more likely to be ≥40 years (95% CI = 8.4–27.3). Third, the ratio of MI to MII errors differed by maternal age. The ratio was lower among women <19 years of age and those ≥40 years (2.1, 2.3, respectively) and higher in the middle age group (3.6). Lastly, we found no effect of grand-maternal age on the risk for maternal nondisjunction. This study emphasizes the complex association between advanced maternal age and nondisjunction of chromosome 21 during oogenesis.
The National Down Syndrome Project (NDSP), based at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, represents a multi-site, population-based, case-control study with two major aims: (1) to identify molecular and epidemiological factors contributing to chromosome nondisjunction and the consequent packaging of an extra chromosome into an egg or sperm, and (2) to identify risk factors for Down syndrome-associated birth defects.
The six national sites represent approximately 11% of U.S. births. Cases were newborns with Down syndrome (trisomy 21), and controls were infants without major birth defects randomly selected from the same birth populations. Biological samples were collected from case infants and their parents, and genetic markers were typed to determine the parental origin of chromosome 21 nondisjunction. Each site interviewed parents of case and control infants addressing pregnancy, medical and family history, occupation, and exposures. Sites collected medical information on case infants.
The NDSP enrolled 907 infants as cases and 977 infants as controls (participation rates: 60.7% for cases; 56.9% for controls). Participation rates varied widely by site as did important demographic factors such as maternal age, race, and education. Nondisjunction during oogenesis accounted for 93.2% of the cases. Errors in spermatogenesis were found in 4.1%, and 2.7% were post-zygotic errors.
This exceptional compilation of questionnaire, clinical, and molecular data makes the NDSP a unique resource for ongoing studies of the etiology and phenotypic consequences of trisomy 21. The combined approach increases study power by defining subgroups of cases by the origin of nondisjunction. This report describes the design and successful implementation of the NDSP.