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F1000Res. 2016 Nov 30;5:2800. eCollection 2016.

Genetic factors influencing risk to orofacial clefts: today's challenges and tomorrow's opportunities.

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Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA.
Department of Oral Biology and Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 15219, USA.


Orofacial clefts include cleft lip (CL), cleft palate (CP), and cleft lip and palate (CLP), which combined represent the largest group of craniofacial malformations in humans with an overall prevalence of one per 1,000 live births. Each of these birth defects shows strong familial aggregation, suggesting a major genetic component to their etiology. Genetic studies of orofacial clefts extend back centuries, but it has proven difficult to define any single etiologic mechanism because many genes appear to influence risk. Both linkage and association studies have identified several genes influencing risk, but these differ across families and across populations. Genome-wide association studies have identified almost two dozen different genes achieving genome-wide significance, and there are broad classes of 'causal genes' for orofacial clefts: a few genes strongly associated with risk and possibly directly responsible for Mendelian syndromes which include orofacial clefts as a key phenotypic feature of the syndrome, and multiple genes with modest individual effects on risk but capable of disrupting normal craniofacial development under the right circumstances (which may include exposure to environmental risk factors). Genomic sequencing studies are now underway which will no doubt reveal additional genes/regions where variants (sequence and structural) can play a role in controlling risk to orofacial clefts. The real challenge to medicine and public health is twofold: to identify specific genes and other etiologic factors in families with affected members and then to devise effective interventions for these different biological mechanisms controlling risk to complex and heterogeneous birth defects such as orofacial clefts.


ADAMTS9; CHD1; orofacial clefts; whole genome sequencing

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests. No competing interests were disclosed. No competing interests were disclosed.

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