A number of recent studies have demonstrated that the occurrence and recurrence risk of neural tube defects (NTD) is reduced by folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy. Epidemiological studies have shown low plasma folate and raised plasma homocysteine in women with spina bifida aperta (SB) children suggesting an abnormal folate metabolism. The 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) variant C677T, resulting in a decreased activity of the enzyme, has been associated with the development of NTD. Several studies demonstrated that homozygosity for the C677T mutation occurs at a higher frequency in patients with SB phenotype than in control individuals. The SB risk is strongest if both the mother and her child have the mutation in the homozygous state. In the present study we compared the frequency of the C- and T-alleles in healthy German individuals (n = 153) with German SB patients (n = 137). Our study groups reveal no significant difference in C/T-allele frequencies and genotype distributions. A family based association study, the transmission disequilibrium test, confirms the absence of an association between T-allele and SB. In 9 of 40 families we were able to exclude linkage to the MTHFR locus (1p36.3) employing different inheritance models.
Conclusion: Our data show no evidence for an association between the C677T mutation and the occurrence of the SB phenotype. Therefore we cannot support the hypothesis that the MTHFR variant does account for a significant genetic predisposition to the SB phenotype in the studied German patients.