Neural tube defects (NTDs) represent some of the most common congenital malformations in humans. The causes of NTDs are complex with both genetic and environmental contributing factors. Periconception nutrition is an important environmental factor influencing the penetrance of NTDs. NTDs arise from failure to close the neural tube completely during development, an event that occurs before establishment of the chorioallantoic placenta. During neurulation, nutrients are absorbed by histotrophic mechanisms and absorbed by endocytosis in the endoderm-derived cell layer of the visceral yolk sac (VYS). Here we review the histotrophic mechanisms by which nutrients are delivered to the human embryo during this critical time period. Because more detailed studies on the molecular mechanisms regulating uptake of nutrients have been performed using rodent models, most importantly mouse and rat models, we will also review nutrient uptake in these model organisms to set the stage for presentation of experimental data that have provided valuable information about how nutrients are delivered to the neurulating embryo. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.