Deletion of the murine X-linked Nap1l2 gene causes lethality from midgestation onwards. The affected embryos exhibit neural tube defects (NTDs) closely resembling spina bifida and anencephaly in humans. X-linked familial and spontaneous cases of NTD were analyzed for sequence alterations in the human NAP1L2. No differences were found in the familial cases. However, a number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within the 5′ region of NAP1L2 were identified both in cases of spontaneous NTD and in normal controls. Most of these SNPs lead to the replacement of guanidines or cytosines within a CpG island that is conserved between the human and the mouse promoter regions. Demethylation in vitro activates Nap1l2 transcriptional activity, suggesting the importance of the CpG island in regulating the activity of the Nap1l2/NAP1L2 genes, and the potential importance of the polymorphisms in modifying their transcriptional activity. NAP1L2/Nap1l2 expression may therefore depend on the genetic-environmental factors that are frequently associated with NTDs. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.