Combination of elevated maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) and low estriol is highly predictive of anencephaly

Yuval Yaron, Deborah D. Hamby, Joseph E. O'Brien, Gregory Critchfield, Jorge Leon, Mazin Ayoub, Mark P. Johnson, Mark I. Evans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increased levels of second trimester maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) have long been established as a marker for neural tube defects (NTDs). In addition, decreased levels of maternal estriol in the third trimester have been reported in pregnancies with anencephalic fetuses. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether early second trimester unconjugated serum estriol (uE3) is an independent predictor of NTDs. The study included 57,031 patients who underwent maternal serum screening with MSAFP at 14-22 weeks gestation. Of these, 23,415 also had uE3 measurements. There were 63 cases of NTD, an overall incidence of 1.1 per 1,000. Elevated MSAFP (≤2.5 MOM) was detected in 1,346 patients, 48 of which had NTDs. Decreased uE3 (≤0.5) was detected in 1,437 patients, 17 of which had NTDs. The incidence of NTDs was significantly higher in patients with low uE3, compared to patients with normal/high uE3 (1.15% vs. 0.09%, P < 001). Finally, 51 patients had both increased MSAFP and decreased uE3; 16 of these had NTDs, 14 of which were anencephalics. In conclusion, both elevated MSAFP and low maternal serum estriol are predictive of NTD but have a low sensitivity. The combination of abnormally elevated MSAFP and low estriol is highly predictive of NTD in particular anencephaly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-299
Number of pages3
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 23 Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Anencephaly
  • Estriol
  • Neural tube defects
  • Prenatal diagnosis


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