One of the goals of birth defects research is to better understand risk or preventive factors for birth defects so that strategies for prevention can be developed. In this article, we have selected four areas of birth defects research that have led to the development of prevention strategies. These areas include rubella virus as a cause of congenital rubella syndrome, folic acid as a preventive factor for neural tube defects, cytomegalovirus infection as a cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities, and alcohol as a cause of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. For each of these areas, we review key clinical and research findings that led to the identification of the risk or preventive factor, milestones in the development of prevention strategies, and the progress made thus far toward prevention. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.