Neural tube defects (NTDs) represent a common group of severe congenital malformations that result from failure of neural tube closure during early development. Their etiology is quite complex involving environmental and genetic factors and their underlying molecular and cellular pathogenic mechanisms remain poorly understood. Animal studies have recently demonstrated an essential role for the planar cell polarity pathway (PCP) in mediating a morphogenetic process called convergent extension during neural tube formation. Alterations in members of this pathway lead to NTDs in vertebrate models, representing novel and exciting candidates for human NTDs. Genetic studies in NTDs have focused mainly on folate-related genes based on the finding that perinatal folic acid supplementation reduces the risk of NTDs by 60-70%. A few variants in these genes have been found to be significantly associated with an increased risk for NTDs. The candidate gene approach investigating genes involved in neurulation has failed to identify major causative genes in the etiology of NTDs. Despite this history of generally negative findings, we are achieving a rapid and impressive progress in understanding the genetic basis of NTDs, based mainly on the powerful tool of animal models.