The ability to hydrolyse and absorb pteroylpolyglutamates (PteGlu(n)) included in a standard meal in mothers who had given birth to an infant with a neural tube defect was tested by comparing them with mothers who had not had any infants with this defect. When compared with control mothers working in the research unit in which the study was performed, case mothers had significantly lower baseline serum and erythrocyte folate levels, and smaller increases in serum folate following the meal containing PteGlu(n). However, all estimates of folate were similar when case mothers were compared with a group of mothers who were friends of the case mothers. The results show that the higher the baseline levels of serum and erythrocyte folate the greater the increase in serum folate after the test meal. Fitting a model for the serum folate response curve resulted in coefficients which differed significantly between case mothers and all control mothers. We conclude that intestinal hydrolysis of PteGlu(n) taken orally is not impaired in mothers who have had infants with neural tube defects when compared with control mothers with similar baseline folate levels, although the curves describing the response to the meal for the two groups do differ significantly. Further investigation is required to determine the mechanism underlying this difference.