The susceptibility of females to anencephaly is well established and has been suggested to result from a slower rate of growth and development of female embryos during cranial neurulation. We have tested this hypothesis by measuring the rates of growth and development, both in utero and in vitro, of male and female embryos of the curly tail (ct) mutant mouse strain, in which cranial neural tube defects occur primarily in females. Embryonic growth was assessed by increase in protein content, while development progression was judged from increase in somite number and morphological score. Embryos were sexed by use of the polymerase chain reaction to amplify a DNA sequence specific to the Y chromosome, and by sex chromatin analysis. We find that, during neurulation (between 8.5 and 10.5 days of gestation), males are advanced in growth and development relative to their female litter mates, but that the rates of growth and development do not differ between the sexes during this period. We conclude that rate of embryonic growth and development is unlikely to determine susceptibility to cranial neural tube defects. It seems more likely that male and female embryos differ in some specific aspect(s) of the neurulation process that increases the susceptibility of females to development of anencephaly.
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