Persons with a thermolabile form of the enzyme 5,10 methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) have reduced enzyme activity and increased plasma homocysteine which can be lowered by supplemental folic acid. Thermolability of the enzyme has recently been shown to be caused by a common mutation (677C-->T) in the MTHFR gene. We studied 41 fibroblast cultures from NTD-affected fetuses and compared their genotypes with those of 109 blood specimens from individuals in the general population. 677C-->T homozygosity was associated with a 7.2 fold increased risk for NTDs (95% confidence interval: 1.8-30.3; p value: 0.001). These preliminary data suggest that the 677C-->T polymorphism of the MTHFR gene is a risk factor for spina bifida and anencephaly that may provide a partial biologic explanation for why folic acid prevents these types of NTD.