Neural tube and craniofacial defects with special emphasis on folate pathway genes

Richard H. Finnell, Kimberly A. Greer, Robert C. Barber, Jorge A. Piedrahita, Gary M. Shaw, Edward J. Lammer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Neural tube and orofacial defects are common congenital malformations in humans. While etiologically heterogeneous, they are for the most part multifactorial in their pathogenesis, having both genetic and environmental components in their development. In recent years, there has been a great deal of epidemiologic evidence demonstrating that women who received multivitamins containing folic acid periconceptionally had significantly reduced occurrence and recurrence risks for producing infants with such malformations. This risk reduction is not observed in all populations, further suggestive of a genetic regulation of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, the mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of folic acid are not well-understood. In this article we review the relevant epidemiologic data on both neural tube defects and orofacial malformations, the fundamental embryological processes involved in closing the neural tube, and the development of the craniofacies, and propose a working hypothesis for susceptibility to these malformations. This hypothesis is based on the interworkings of cellular folate transport, focusing on the key elements involved in potocytosis. We propose that infants with mutations in the folate receptor alpha gene might be at increased risk for congenital anomalies due to a reduced binding affinity for 5- methyltetrahydrofolate, the physiologic form of folic acid. Various experimental approaches to test the working hypothesis are considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-53
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Reviews in Oral Biology and Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998


  • Birth defects
  • Folic acid
  • Genetic susceptibility


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