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1.  IS LOW IRON STATUS A RISK FACTOR FOR NEURAL TUBE DEFECTS? 
Background
Folic acid supplements can protect against neural tube defects (NTDs). Low folate and low vitamin B12 status may be maternal risk factors for having an NTD affected pregnancy. However, not all NTDs are preventable by having an adequate folate/ B12 status and other potentially modifiable factors may be involved. Folate and vitamin B12 status have important links to iron metabolism. Animal studies support an association between poor iron status and NTDs but human data are scarce. We examined the relevance of low iron status in a nested NTD case-control study of women within a pregnant population-based cohort.
Methods
Pregnant women were recruited between 1986 and 1990, when vitamin or iron supplementation in early pregnancy was rare. Blood samples, taken at an average of 14 weeks gestation, were used to measure ferritin and hemoglobin in 64 women during an NTD affected pregnancy and 207 women with unaffected pregnancies.
Results
No significant differences in maternal ferritin or hemoglobin concentrations were observed between NTD affected and non-affected pregnancies (case median ferritin 16.8μg/L and hemoglobin 12.4g/dL versus 15.4μg/L and 12.3g/dL in controls). As reported previously, red cell folate and vitamin B12 concentrations were significantly lower in cases. Furthermore, there was no significant association of iron status with type of NTD lesion (anencephaly or spina bifida)
Conclusions
We conclude that low maternal iron status during early pregnancy is not an independent risk factor for NTDs. Adding iron to folic acid for periconceptional use may improve iron status but is not likely to prevent NTDs.
doi:10.1002/bdra.23223
PMCID: PMC4018583  PMID: 24535840
ferritin; iron; hemoglobin; neural tube defects
2.  Maternal Vitamin B12 Status and Risk of Neural Tube Defects in a Population With High Neural Tube Defect Prevalence and No Folic Acid Fortification 
Pediatrics  2009;123(3):917-923.
OBJECTIVE
Folic acid fortification has reduced neural tube defect prevalence by 50% to 70%. It is unlikely that fortification levels will be increased to reduce neural tube defect prevalence further. Therefore, it is important to identify other modifiable risk factors. Vitamin B12 is metabolically related to folate; moreover, previous studies have found low B12 status in mothers of children affected by neural tube defect. Our objective was to quantify the effect of low B12 status on neural tube defect risk in a high-prevalence, unfortified population.
METHODS
We assessed pregnancy vitamin B12 status concentrations in blood samples taken at an average of 15 weeks’ gestation from 3 independent nested case-control groups of Irish women within population-based cohorts, at a time when vitamin supplementation or food fortification was rare. Group 1 blood samples were from 95 women during a neural tube defect–affected pregnancy and 265 control subjects. Group 2 included blood samples from 107 women who had a previous neural tube defect birth but whose current pregnancy was not affected and 414 control subjects. Group 3 samples were from 76 women during an affected pregnancy and 222 control subjects.
RESULTS
Mothers of children affected by neural tube defect had significantly lower B12 status. In all 3 groups those in the lowest B12 quartiles, compared with the highest, had between two and threefold higher adjusted odds ratios for being the mother of a child affected by neural tube defect. Pregnancy blood B12 concentrations of <250 ng/L were associated with the highest risks.
CONCLUSIONS
Deficient or inadequate maternal vitamin B12 status is associated with a significantly increased risk for neural tube defects. We suggest that women have vitamin B12 levels of >300 ng/L (221 pmol/L) before becoming pregnant. Improving B12 status beyond this level may afford a further reduction in risk, but this is uncertain.
doi:10.1542/peds.2008-1173
PMCID: PMC4161975  PMID: 19255021
vitamin B12; cobalamin; neural tube defects; folic acid fortification; folate
3.  Lack of Association between Folate-Receptor Autoantibodies and Neural-Tube Defects 
The New England journal of medicine  2009;361(2):152-160.
BACKGROUND
A previous report described the presence of autoantibodies against folate receptors in 75% of serum samples from women with a history of pregnancy complicated by a neural-tube defect, as compared with 10% of controls. We sought to confirm this finding in an Irish population, which traditionally has had a high prevalence of neuraltube defects.
METHODS
We performed two studies. Study 1 consisted of analysis of stored frozen blood samples collected from 1993 through 1994 from 103 mothers with a history of pregnancy complicated by a neural-tube defect (case mothers), 103 mothers with a history of pregnancy but no complication by a neural-tube defect (matched with regard to number of pregnancies and sampling dates), 58 women who had never been pregnant, and 36 men. Study 2, conducted to confirm that the storage of samples did not influence the folate-receptor autoantibodies, included fresh samples from 37 case mothers, 22 control mothers, 10 women who had never been pregnant, and 9 men. All samples were assayed for blocking and binding autoantibodies against folate receptors.
RESULTS
In Study 1, blocking autoantibodies were found in 17% of case mothers, as compared with 13% of control mothers (odds ratio, 1.54; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.70 to 3.39), and binding autoantibodies in 29%, as compared with 32%, respectively (odds ratio, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.44 to 1.50). Study 2 showed similar results, indicating that sample degradation was unlikely.
CONCLUSIONS
The presence and titer of maternal folate-receptor autoantibodies were not significantly associated with a neural-tube defect–affected pregnancy in this Irish population.
doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0803783
PMCID: PMC4149290  PMID: 19587340
4.  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)
5.  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
6.  Testing reported associations of genetic risk factors for oral clefts in a large Irish study population 
BACKGROUND
Suggestive, but not conclusive, studies implicate many genetic variants in oral cleft etiology. We used a large, ethnically homogenous study population to test whether reported associations between nonsyndromic oral clefts and 12 genes (CLPTM1, CRISPLD2, FGFR2, GABRB3, GLI2, IRF6, PTCH1, RARA, RYK, SATB2, SUMO1, TGFA) could be confirmed.
METHODS
Thirty-one single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in exons, splice sites, and conserved non-coding regions were studied in 509 patients with cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP), 383 with cleft palate only (CP), 838 mothers and 719 fathers of patients with oral clefts, and 902 controls from Ireland. Case-control and family-based statistical tests were performed using isolated oral clefts for the main analyses.
RESULTS
In case-control comparisons, the minor allele of PTCH1 A562A (rs2066836) was associated with reduced odds of CLP (OR: 0.29, 95% CI: 0.13–0.64 for homozygotes) whereas the minor allele of PTCH1 L1315P (rs357564) was associated with increased odds of CLP (OR: 1.36, 95% CI: 1.07–1.74 for heterozygotes and OR: 1.56, 95% CI: 1.09–2.24 for homozygotes). The minor allele of one SUMO1 SNP, rs3769817 located in intron 2, was associated with increased odds of CP (OR: 1.45, 95% CI: 1.06–1.99 for heterozygotes). Transmission disequilibrium was observed for the minor allele of TGFA V159V (rs2166975) which was over-transmitted to CP cases (P=0.041).
CONCLUSIONS
For 10 of the 12 genes, this is the largest candidate gene study of nonsyndromic oral clefts to date. The findings provide further evidence that PTCH1, SUMO1, and TGFA contribute to nonsyndromic oral clefts.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20639
PMCID: PMC3503531  PMID: 19937600
cleft lip; cleft palate; congenital abnormalities
7.  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
8.  Maternal vitamin levels in pregnancies affected by congenital malformations other than neural tube defects 
Background
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusions
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.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20817
PMCID: PMC3372895  PMID: 21591245
9.  A Common Variant in MTHFD1L is Associated with Neural Tube Defects and mRNA Splicing Efficiency 
Human mutation  2009;30(12):1650-1656.
Polymorphisms in folate-related genes have emerged as important risk factors in a range of diseases including neural tube defects (NTDs), cancer and coronary artery disease (CAD). Having previously identified a polymorphism within the cytoplasmic folate enzyme, MTHFD1, as a maternal risk factor for NTDs; we considered the more recently identified mitochondrial paralogue, MTHFD1L as a candidate gene for NTD association. We identified a common deletion/insertion polymorphism, rs3832406, c.781-6823ATT(7-9), that influences splicing efficiency and is strongly associated with NTD risk. Three alleles of rs3832406 were detected in the Irish population with varying number of ATT repeats; Allele 1 consists of ATT7, while Alleles 2 and 3 consist of ATT8 and ATT9 respectively. Allele 2 of this triallelic polymorphism showed a decreased case risk as demonstrated by case-control logistic regression (P= 0.002) and by transmission disequilibrium test (TDT) (P= 0.001); while Allele 1 showed an increased case risk. Allele 3 showed no influence on NTD risk and represents the lowest frequency allele (0.15). Additional SNP genotyping in the same genomic region provides additional supportive evidence of an association. We demonstrate that two of the three alleles of rs3832406 are functionally different and influence the splicing efficiency of the alternate MTHFD1L mRNA transcripts.
doi:10.1002/humu.21109
PMCID: PMC2787683  PMID: 19777576
MTHFD1L; NTD; Splicing; Polymorphism; Association; Folate; Mitochondria
10.  A genome-wide association study of cleft lip with and without cleft palate identifies risk variants near MAFB and ABCA4 
Nature genetics  2010;42(6):525-529.
Case-parent trios were used in a genome wide association study of cleft lip with/without cleft palate (CL/P). SNPs near two genes not previously associated with CL/P [MAFB: most significant SNP rs13041247, with odds ratio per minor allele OR=0.704; 95%CI=0.635,0.778; p=2.05*10−11; and ABCA4: most significant SNP rs560426, with OR=1.432; 95%CI=1.292,1.587; p=5.70*10−12] and two previously identified regions (chr. 8q24 and IRF6) attained genome wide significance. Stratifying trios into European and Asian ancestry groups revealed differences in statistical significance, although estimated effect sizes were similar. Replication studies from several populations showed confirming evidence, with families of European ancestry giving stronger evidence for markers in 8q24 while Asian families showed stronger evidence for MAFB and ABCA4. Expression studies support a role for MAFB in palate development.
doi:10.1038/ng.580
PMCID: PMC2941216  PMID: 20436469
11.  Analysis of the MTHFD1 promoter and risk of neural tube defects 
Human genetics  2009;125(3):247-256.
Genetic variants in MTHFD1 (5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate dehydrogenase/ 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate cyclohydrolase/ 10-formyltetrahydrofolate synthetase), an important folate metabolic enzyme, are associated with a number of common diseases, including neural tube defects (NTDs). This study investigates the promoter of the human MTHFD1 gene in a bid to understand how this gene is controlled and regulated. Following a combination of in silico and molecular approaches, we report that MTHFD1 expression is controlled by a TATA-less, Initiator-less promoter and transcription is initiated at multiple start sites over a 126bp region. We confirmed the presence of three database polymorphisms (dbSNP) by direct sequencing of the upstream region (rs1076991 C>T, rs8010584 G>A, rs4243628 G>T), with a fourth (dbSNP rs746488 A>T) not found to be polymorphic in our population and no novel polymorphisms identified. We demonstrate that a common SNP rs1076991 C>T within the window of transcriptional initiation exerts a significant effect on promoter activity in vitro. We investigated this SNP as a potential risk factor for NTDs in a large homogenous Irish population and determined that it is not an independent risk factor, but, it does increase both case (χ2 = 11.06, P = 0.001) and maternal (χ2 = 6.68, P = 0.01) risk when allele frequencies were analysed in combination with the previously identified disease-associated p.R653Q (c.1958 G>A; dbSNP rs2236225) polymorphism. These results provide the first insight into how MTHFD1 is regulated and further emphasise its importance during embryonic development.
doi:10.1007/s00439-008-0616-3
PMCID: PMC2732995  PMID: 19130090
MTHFD1; NTD; Functional; SNP; R653Q; Promoter
12.  Construction of a High Resolution Linkage Disequilibrium Map to Evaluate Common Genetic Variation in TP53 and Neural Tube Defect Risk in an Irish Population 
Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the etiology of neural tube defects (NTDs). While periconceptional folic acid supplementation is known to significantly reduce the risk of NTDs, folate metabolic pathway related factors do not account for all NTDs. Evidence from mouse models indicates that the tumor protein p53 (TP53) is involved in implantation and normal neural tube development. To determine whether genetic variation in the TP53 might contribute to NTD risk in humans, we constructed a high resolution linkage disequilibrium (LD) map of the TP53 genomic region based on genotyping 21 markers in an Irish population. We found that nine of these variants can be used to capture the majority of common variation in the TP53 genomic region. In contrast, the 3-marker haplotype commonly reported in the TP53 literature offers limited coverage of the variation in the gene. We used the expanded set of polymorphisms to measure the influence of TP53 on NTDs using both case-control and family-based tests of association. We also assayed a functional variant in the p53 regulator MDM2 (rs2279744). Alleles of three noncoding TP53 markers were associated with NTD risk. A case effect was seen with the GG genotype of rs1625895 in intron 6 (OR = 1.37 [1.04-1.79], p=0.02). A maternal effect was seen with the 135/135 genotype of the intron 1 VNTR (OR = 1.86 [1.16-2.96], p=0.01) and the TT genotype of rs1614984 (RR = 0.58 [0.37-0.91], p=0.02). As multiple comparisons were made, these cannot be considered definitive positive findings and additional investigation is required.
doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.32504
PMCID: PMC2836760  PMID: 18798306
neural tube defects; spina bifida; p53; TP53; MDM2; linkage disequilibrium
13.  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
14.  Folate-Related Gene Polymorphisms as Risk Factors for Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate 
BACKGROUND
Cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CLP) and cleft palate only (CPO) have an inherited component and, many studies suggest, a relationship with folate. Attempts to find folate-related genes associated with clefts have, however, often been inconclusive. This study examined four SNPs related to folate metabolism (MTHFR 677 C→T, MTHFR 1298 A→C, MTHFD1 1958 G→A, and TC II 776 C→G) in a large Irish population to clarify their relationship with clefts.
METHODS
Cases and their parents were recruited from major surgical centers performing cleft repairs in Ireland and a support organization. Data on risk factors, medical history, and DNA were collected. Controls were pregnant women from the greater Dublin area (n = 1,599).
RESULTS
CLP cases numbered 536 and CPO cases 426 after exclusions. CPO mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be MTHFR 677 TT, OR 1.50 (95% CI: 1.05–2.16; p = .03). Log-linear analysis showed a borderline association (p = .07). Isolated CPO case mothers were significantly more likely than controls to be homozygous for the MTHFD1 1958 G→A variant, OR 1.50 (95%CI: 1.08–2.09; p = .02). When multiple cases were added, both CPO cases and case mothers were significantly more likely to be AA (p = .02 and p = .007, respectively). The CLP case-control and mother-control analyses also showed significant effects, ORs 1.38 (95% CI: 1.05–1.82; p = .03) and 1.39 (95% CI: 1.04–1.85; p = .03), respectively.
CONCLUSIONS
Associations were found for both CPO and CLP and MTHFD1 1958 G→A in cases and case mothers. MTHFR 677 C→T could be a maternal risk factor for clefts but the association was not strong. Because multiple comparisons were made, these findings require additional investigation. Given the known association between MTHFD1 1958 G→A and NTDs, these findings should be explored in more detail.
doi:10.1002/bdra.20491
PMCID: PMC2670560  PMID: 18661527
cleft lip; cleft palate; oral clefts; folate; folate genes; vitamin B12; transcobalamin gene

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