Background: The number of mouse mutants and strains with neural tube closure defects (NTDs) now exceeds 190, including 155 involving known genes, 33 with unidentified genes, and eight "multifactorial" strains.
Methods: The emerging patterns of mouse NTDs are considered in relation to the unknown genetics of the common human NTDs, anencephaly, and spina bifida aperta.
Results: Of the 150 mouse mutants that survive past midgestation, 20% have risk of either exencephaly and spina bifida aperta or both, parallel to the majority of human NTDs, whereas 70% have only exencephaly, 5% have only spina bifida, and 5% have craniorachischisis. The primary defect in most mouse NTDs is failure of neural fold elevation. Most null mutations (>90%) produce syndromes of multiple affected structures with high penetrance in homozygotes, whereas the "multifactorial" strains and several null-mutant heterozygotes and mutants with partial gene function (hypomorphs) have low-penetrance nonsyndromic NTDs, like the majority of human NTDs. The normal functions of the mutated genes are diverse, with clusters in pathways of actin function, apoptosis, and chromatin methylation and structure. The female excess observed in human anencephaly is found in all mouse exencephaly mutants for which gender has been studied. Maternal agents, including folate, methionine, inositol, or alternative commercial diets, have specific preventative effects in eight mutants and strains.
Conclusions: If the human homologs of the mouse NTD mutants contribute to risk of common human NTDs, it seems likely to be in multifactorial combinations of hypomorphs and low-penetrance heterozygotes, as exemplified by mouse digenic mutants and the oligogenic SELH/Bc strain.