Accurate, unbiased malformation rates in twins must be obtained unselectively from population-based studies that include livebirths and stillbirths after a thorough ascertainment of cases. This type of study was conducted in Los Angeles County, California, where 28 twins with a neural tube defect (NTD) were identified. The prevalence in twins (1.6/1,000) was significantly higher than in singletons (1.1/1,000). The study then was expanded to include population-based data from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway which has a comparable overall NTD prevalence (1.0/1,000) and twinning rate (2%). The combined material shows a higher prevalence of anencephaly and encephalocele but not of spina bifida in twins compared to singletons. The male/female ratios in total twin and singleton cases were comparable (0.8), but varied by specific defect. Like-sex twin females appeared at highest risk for NTD as well as for fetal death.
This study supports theories which associate NTDs with monozygotic twins, either through developmental disruptions that cause susceptibility to environmental agents or through a common etiology. Furthermore, it suggests that twins and singletons differ in their response to etiologic factors for the development of NTDs and that the development of each type of NTD may be related to different factors.