, Volume 67, Issue 12, pp 915-921

Neural tube defects : Prevention by folic acid and other vitamins

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Abstract

Folic acid has been demonstrated in clinical trials to reduce significantly the recurrence (and probably occurrence) of neural tube defects (NTD). In the U.K., there has been no decline in prevalence of NTD since the publication of the findings with folic acid. This article examines a series of questions relating to the action of folic acid, with emphasis on the use of mouse models as a source of experimental information which cannot easily be obtained by direct study of humans. Several mouse genetic NTD models exhibit sensitivity to prevention by folic acid, whereas other mice which develop morphologically similar NTD are resistant. Folic acid normalises neurulation in the sensitive mouse strains, providing evidence for a direct effect on the developing embryo, not on the pregnant female. Mouse studies do not support the proposed action of folic acid in encouraging thein utero demise of affected fetuses (i.e. terathanasia). Polymorphic variants of several folate-related enzymes have been shown to influence risk of NTD in humans and an inherited abnormality of folate metabolism has been demonstrated in one mouse NTD model. However, the biochemical basis of the action of folic acid in preventing NTD remains to be determined in detail. NTD in one folate-resistant mouse strain can be prevented by myoinositol, bothin utero andin vitro, raising the possibility of a therapeutic role also in humans. Gene-gene interactions seem likely to underlie the majority of NTD, suggesting that poly-therapy involving folic acid and other agents, such as myo-inositol, may prove more effective in preventing NTD than folic acid treatment alone.