Neural tube defects on the Texas-Mexico border: What we've learned in the 20 years since the Brownsville cluster


  • The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.


We reviewed the published findings from the Texas Neural Tube Defect Project, a 6-year case-control study (1995–2000) of neural tube defects (NTDs) on the Texas-Mexico border. In this review, we highlight what was learned about environmental, genetic, and nutritional factors (i.e., those related to the folate and other metabolic pathways) and the novel putative risk factors that emerged from this study of Mexican American women living on the Texas-Mexico border. Our investigations of the micronutrients and metabolic pathways involved confirmed the findings of other researchers that increased folate intake has a protective effect and that low serum B12, high serum homocysteine levels, and obesity independently contribute to risk. Studies of this population also have implicated hyperinsulinemia and low ferritin, metabolic risk factors, which require additional study to elucidate their physiologic mechanism. Environmental contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were of community concern, did little to explain NTD risk. Studies in this folic acid deficit-population also revealed several novel risk factors, namely, diarrhea, stress, fumonisins, and the combination of nitrosatable drug exposure with high nitrate/nitrite intake. In conclusion, the 23 studies among the Mexican American women living along the Texas-Mexico border have demonstrated the multifactorial nature of NTDs and that a population deficient in folic acid will be vulnerable to a variety of insults whether brought on by individual behaviors (e.g., obesity) or through the surrounding environment (e.g., fumonisins). Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.