The emerging role of epigenetic mechanisms in the etiology of neural tube defects

Epigenetics. 2011 Jul;6(7):875-83. doi: 10.4161/epi.6.7.16400. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


The molecular requirements for neural tube closure are complex. This is illustrated by the occurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs) in many genetic mouse mutants, which implicate a variety of genes, pathways and cellular functions. NTDs are also prevalent birth defects in humans, affecting around 1 per 1000 pregnancies worldwide. In humans the causation is thought to involve the interplay of fetal genes and the effect of environmental factors. Recent studies on the aetiology of human NTDs, as well as analysis of mouse models, have raised the question of the possible involvement of epigenetic factors in determining susceptibility. A consideration of potential causative factors in human NTDs must now include both alterations in the regulation of gene expression, through mutation of promoter or regulatory elements, and the additional analysis of epigenetic regulation. Alterations in the epigenetic status can be directly modified by various environmental insults or maternal dietary factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • Neural Tube / pathology
  • Neural Tube Defects / genetics*
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • Regulatory Elements, Transcriptional / genetics


  • Histones