A specific gene mutation leading to altered homocysteine metabolism has been identified in parents and fetuses with neural tube defects (NTDs). In addition, current animal and human data indicate that spine closure occurs simultaneously in five separate sites that then fuse. We sought to determine whether either this mutation or abnormal amniotic fluid homocysteine levels are associated with all five neural tube closure sites. We retrieved stored amniotic fluid from cases of isolated fetal neural tube defect diagnosed from 1988 to 1998 (n = 80) and from normal controls matched for race, month and year of amniocentesis, and maternal age. Cases were categorized according to defect site by using all available medical records. The presence or absence of the 677C-->T mutation of 5, 10-methylenetetrahydrafolate reductase (MTHFR) gene was determined, and homocysteine levels were measured; case and controls were compared. Significantly more cases than controls were heterozygous or homozygous for the 677C-->T MTHFR mutation (44% vs. 17%, P < or = 0. 001). Likewise, cases were significantly more likely than controls to have amniotic fluid homocysteine levels >90th centile (>1.85 micromol/L), 27% vs. 10%, P = 0.02. Most (83%) of control cases had both normal MTHFR alleles and normal amniotic fluid homocysteine levels (normal/normal), whereas only 56% of NTD case were normal/normal (P = 0.001). When evaluated by defect site, only defects involving the cervical-lumbar spine, lumbosacral spine, and occipital encephalocele were significantly less likely to be normal/normal than controls (P = 0.007, 0.0003, and 0.007, respectively), suggesting a strong association with the 677C-->T allele. In contrast, anencephaly, exencephaly, and defects confined to the sacrum included many cases that had both normal MTHFR alleles and normal homocysteine and were not significantly different from controls. The 677C-->T MTHFR mutation and elevated homocysteine levels appear to be disproportionately associated with defects spanning the cervical-lumbar spine, lumbosacral spine, and occipital encephalocele. In contrast, anencephaly, exencephaly, and defects confined to the sacrum may not be related to altered homocysteine metabolism.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.