Research Article

Spina bifida and anencephaly: miscarriage as possible cause.

Br Med J 1975; 4 doi: (Published 27 December 1975) Cite this as: Br Med J 1975;4:743
  1. C Clarke,
  2. D Hobson,
  3. O M McKendrick,
  4. S C Rogers,
  5. P M Sheppard


    In two retrospective Liverpool surveys the domestic, family, dietary, and medical environments of the mothers of children affected by anencephaly or spina bifida, or both (ASB) were examined. None seemed to be of more than minor importance and the findings of others were therefore examined to see if they suggested a major factor. The most promising lead came from the hypothesis that ASB is usually due to an interaction between twin fetuses or between a fetus and residual trophoblastic material from the previous normal pregnancy, particularly when this is of the opposite sex to the propositus. The sex finding was not confirmed. It was noted that hydatidiform moles, like children with ASB, were usually female and that moles and choriocarcinomas on the one hand and children with ASB on the other occurred in mothers of similar ages, but were to some extent reciprocal in geographical incidence. This suggested that trophoblastic disease might be a factor common to all three and if so then one would expect the frequency of miscarriages to be higher immediately before than immediately after the birth of an ASB child, since mole and choriocarcinoma seldom follow a normal pregnancy. An analysis of published data confirmed that this was almost certainly so. Hence residual pathological trophoblastic material from either a previous miscarriage or a co-twin may interact unfavourably with another fetus to produce ASB and this may be the primary cause of the condition. The hypothesis is consistent with the observed lack of concordance in twins, the high incidence in females, the maternal age effect, and the greater prevalence in social classes IV and V.