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Am J Epidemiol. 1998 Jul 1;148(1):30-7.

Maternal vitamin use, genetic variation of infant methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, and risk for spina bifida.

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  • 1March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, Emeryville 94608, USA.


Maternal periconceptional use of vitamin supplements containing folic acid substantially reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in the offspring. The mechanism underlying this reduction in risk is unknown. Several recent studies have reported an association between homozygosity for a variant form (the C677T genotype) of the 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene and risk for NTDs in individuals. It has been hypothesized that maternal folic acid supplementation prevents NTDs by partially correcting reduced MTHFR activity associated with the variant form of the enzyme. Using data from two California case-control interview studies (1987-1991 birth cohorts), the authors investigated whether an interaction for spina bifida risk existed between infant MTHFR C677T genotype and maternal use of supplements containing folic acid. The authors genotyped the allelic variants of MTHFR in 214 liveborn case infants with spina bifida and 503 control infants for whom information on maternal periconceptional vitamin use was available. The percentage of all case infants with the C677T MTHFR mutation, for both homozygous (TT) and heterozygous (TC) genotypes, was slightly higher than that of controls. The C677T genotype was substantially more frequent among both case and control Hispanic infants than among non-Hispanic infants. Among all infants whose mothers did not periconceptionally use vitamins containing folic acid, the risk of spina bifida, as measured by the odds ratio, was 1.6 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.8-3.1) for all infants with the TT genotype and 2.0 (95% CI 0.5-7.4) for non-Hispanic white infants with the TT genotype, as compared with infants with the CC genotype. This result indicates a modestly increased risk associated with the C677T genotype. A lower risk estimate (odds ratio=1.2, 95% CI 0.4-4.0) was observed among infants whose mothers periconceptionally used vitamin supplements containing folic acid. This population-based California study found a modestly increased risk of spina bifida among infants who were homozygous for the C677T genotype, but only minimal evidence of an interaction between the C677T genotype and maternal folic acid intake in the occurrence of spina bifida. If this mutant MTHFR genotype plays a role in the association between maternal vitamin use and NTD risk, it may be a small role, or it may be conditional on maternal genotype.

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