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Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. 2015 Jan-Feb;4(1):17-32. doi: 10.1002/wdev.161. Epub 2014 Oct 22.

Holoprosencephaly: signaling interactions between the brain and the face, the environment and the genes, and the phenotypic variability in animal models and humans.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.


Holoprosencephaly (HPE) is the most common developmental defect of the forebrain characterized by inadequate or absent midline division of the forebrain into cerebral hemispheres, with concomitant midline facial defects in the majority of cases. Understanding the pathogenesis of HPE requires knowledge of the relationship between the developing brain and the facial structures during embryogenesis. A number of signaling pathways control and coordinate the development of the brain and face, including Sonic hedgehog, Bone morphogenetic protein, Fibroblast growth factor, and Nodal signaling. Mutations in these pathways have been identified in animal models of HPE and human patients. Because of incomplete penetrance and variable expressivity of HPE, patients carrying defined mutations may not manifest the disease at all, or have a spectrum of defects. It is currently unknown what drives manifestation of HPE in genetically at-risk individuals, but it has been speculated that other gene mutations and environmental factors may combine as cumulative insults. HPE can be diagnosed in utero by a high-resolution prenatal ultrasound or a fetal magnetic resonance imaging, sometimes in combination with molecular testing from chorionic villi or amniotic fluid sampling. Currently, there are no effective preventive methods for HPE. Better understanding of the mechanisms of gene-environment interactions in HPE would provide avenues for such interventions.

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