Examining the Vanishing Twin Hypothesis of Neural Tube Defects: Application of an Epigenetic Predictor for Monozygotic Twinning.

Strong associations between neural tube defects (NTDs) and monozygotic (MZ) twinning have long been noted, and it has been suggested that NTD cases who do not present as MZ twins may be the survivors of MZ twinning events. We have recently shown that MZ twins carry a strong, distinctive DNA methylation signature and have developed an algorithm based on genomewide DNA methylation array data that distinguishes MZ twins from dizygotic twins and other relatives at well above chance level. We have applied this algorithm to published methylation data from five fetal tissues (placental chorionic villi, kidney, spinal cord, brain and muscle) collected from spina bifida cases (n = 22), anencephalic cases (n = 15) and controls (n = 19). We see no difference in signature between cases and controls, providing no support for a common etiological role of MZ twinning in NTDs. The strong associations therefore continue to await elucidation.
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