Evaluation of candidate genes for susceptibility to spina bifida

Kelly Ann Volcik, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Neural tube defects (NTDs) are the most common severely disabling birth defects in the United States, with a frequency of approximately 1–2 of every 1,000 births. This text includes the identification and evaluation of candidate susceptibility genes that confer risk for the development of neural tube defects (NTDs). The project focused on isolated meningomyelocele, also termed spina bifida (SB). Spina bifida is a complex disease with multifactorial inheritance, therefore the subject population (consisting of North American Caucasians and Hispanics of Mexicali-American descent) was composed of 459 simplex SB families who were tested for genetic associations utilizing the transmission disequilibrium test (TDT), a nonparametric linkage technique. Three categories of candidate genes were studied, including (1) human equivalents of genes determined in mouse models to cause NTDs, (2) HOX and PAX genes, and (3) the MTHFR gene involved in the metabolic pathway of folate. The C677T variant of the 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene was the first mutation in this gene to be implicated as a risk factor for NTDs. Our evaluation of the MTHFR gene provides evidence that maternal C677T homozygosity is a risk factor for upper level spina bifida defects in Hispanics [OR = 2.3, P = 0.02]. This observed risk factor is of great importance due to the high prevalence of this homozygous genotype in the Hispanic population. Additionally, maternal C677T/A1298C compound heterozygosity is a risk factor for upper level spina bifida defects in non-Hispanic whites [OR = 3.6, P = 0.03]. For TDT analysis, our total population of 1128 subjects were genotyped for 54 markers from within and/or flanking the 20 candidate genes/gene regions of interest. Significant TDT findings were obtained for 3 of the 54 analyzed markers: d20s101 flanking the PAX1 gene (P = 0.019), d1s228 within the PAX7 gene (P = 0.011), and d2s110 within the PAX8 gene (P = 0.013). These results were followed-up by testing the genes directly for mutations utilizing single-strand conformational analysis (SSCA) and direct sequencing. Multiple variations were detected in each of these PAX genes; however, these variations were not passed from parent to child in phase with the positively transmitted alleles. Therefore, these variations do not contribute to the susceptibility of spina bifida, but rather are previously unreported single nucleotide polymorphisms.

Subject Area

Genetics|Cellular biology|Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Volcik, Kelly Ann, "Evaluation of candidate genes for susceptibility to spina bifida" (2001). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3004461.