Recent animal studies suggested that deregulated expression of the platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha (PDGFRalpha) may contribute to the failure of normal neural tube closure (NTC). There is also suggestive evidence that the promoter haplotype of the PDGFRA is associated with genetic susceptibility in human neural tube defects (NTDs). The purpose of our study was to investigate the association between promoter haplotype combinations of the human PDGFRA gene and risk for NTDs in a Hispanic population from the Texas-Mexico border region. This population has a considerably higher prevalence of NTDs (16/10,000 live births) than that generally reported in the United States (8-10/10,000 live births). In the present study, NTDs were defined as spina bifida or anencephaly. The haplotype of PDGFRA gene promoter was determined by direct DNA sequence analysis. Two novel haplotypes, H2epsilon and H1beta, were found. We observed significant differences among variable haplotype groups from in vitro transient transfection studies in U2-OS osteosarcoma cell and two other cell lines (HeLa cell and MCF7 cell). Result from our case-control study demonstrated that the frequencies of haplotypes with low transcription activity were significantly higher in NTD mothers than that observed in control mothers (odds ratio=2.2, 95% CI=1.0-4.6). Infants with at least one low activity allele showed slightly higher risk (odds ratio=1.5, 95%=0.8-3.1). Our study suggests that the reduced transcriptional activity of PDGFRA gene could increase the risk of having an NTD-affected pregnancy.