We have developed an inbred stock of mice called SELH that has a high frequency of the neural tube defect exencephaly at birth. A previous genetic study indicated that the exencephaly is due to two to three additive loci differing between SELH and a closely related normal strain, ICR/Bc, but this analysis was not designed to detect genetic maternal effects. Recently, we demonstrated that there is genetic polymorphism among normal mouse strains leading to differences in site of initiation of closure of the cranial neural tube. In the present study, an inbred substrain of SELH mice, with 24% exencephaly among embryos, was crossed with an unrelated normal strain, SWV/Bc, and the frequency of exencephaly in subsequent generations used to extend our understanding of the genetic cause of exencephaly in SELH mice.
The purposes of the genetic studies reported here were twofold. First, based on the influence of genetic maternal effects on other genetically complex birth defects in mice, we hypothesized that the exencephaly of SELH mice would exhibit strong genetic maternal effects. This hypothesis was tested by comparisons among the four possible reciprocal backcrosses to SELH. The result was an overall frequency of 2.3% exencephaly in first backcross embryos with no difference among the four crosses and no evidence of genetic maternal effects. Second, the frequency of exencephaly recovered in the backcross and F1 embryos was compared with the previous genetic study and with various genetic models. The frequencies were similar to those obtained from the cross to ICR/Bc mice and were compatible with a hypothesis of additive gene action at a few loci. The similarity of results between a wide outcross to SWV/Bc and a narrow outcross to ICR/Bc suggests that the exencephaly-causing genes in SELH are mutations, not polymorphisms. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.