Facial clefts are one of the most common birth defects, affecting 2 out of every thousand babies. While the main causes of facial clefts are unknown, it is obvious that genetics plays a strong role. We've shown that families with one member affected by clefts are 40 times as likely to have a baby with a cleft. Environmental factors are also presumed to play a role in clefts. For example, clefts are easily produced in experimental animals exposed to teratogens. It is likely that humans vary in their genetic susceptibility to teratogens that cause clefts. More than a decade ago, we anticipated that genetic susceptibility would become an important area of epidemiologic research at NIEHS. Accordingly, we selected facial clefts as a condition with both genetic and environmental causes, and we began in 1992 to develop a study to address the causes of clefts. In 1996 we launched a population-based case-control study of facial clefts in Norway. (Norway has one of the highest rates of cleft lip and palate in the world.) The field phase was completed in 2002. We enrolled 88% of all babies with facial clefts born in Norway between 1996 and 2002 (574 cases), and 76% of eligible control infants (763) selected randomly from the population. Mothers of these infants provided detailed information on occupational and other exposures during pregnancy, as well as on nutrition, personal habits and medical history. Biological samples for DNA analysis were collected from cases and controls as well as their mothers, fathers and siblings. These total nearly 4000 people. DNA has been extracted from these samples and is now ready for genetic analysis. In the course of carrying out this study, we developed and published a new statistical strategy for the analysis of genetic data in case-parent triads that has been widely adapted. We have demonstrated the application of this new method in a preliminary analysis of 262 case-parent triads. We are working intensively on analyses of folic acid, cigarette smoking and hazardous occupations, and their effects on the risk of facial clefts. We have recently had DNA from our newborn cases and controls assayed for methylation changes. We are analyzing these data to see if maternal exposures (for example, smoking or folic acid intake during pregnancy) are related to methylation status of the newborn.

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Leslie, Elizabeth J; Liu, Huan; Carlson, Jenna C et al. (2016) A Genome-wide Association Study of Nonsyndromic Cleft Palate Identifies an Etiologic Missense Variant in GRHL3. Am J Hum Genet 98:744-54
Arendt, Linn Håkonsen; Ramlau-Hansen, Cecilia Høst; Wilcox, Allen J et al. (2016) Placental Weight and Male Genital Anomalies: A Nationwide Danish Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol 183:1122-8
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Kutbi, Hebah; Wehby, George L; Moreno Uribe, Lina M et al. (2016) Maternal underweight and obesity and risk of orofacial clefts in a large international consortium of population-based studies. Int J Epidemiol :
Wu, Tao; Schwender, Holger; Ruczinski, Ingo et al. (2014) Evidence of gene-environment interaction for two genes on chromosome 4 and environmental tobacco smoke in controlling the risk of nonsyndromic cleft palate. PLoS One 9:e88088
Tollanes, Mette C; Wilcox, Allen J; Lie, Rolv T et al. (2014) Familial risk of cerebral palsy: population based cohort study. BMJ 349:g4294
Skuladottir, Hildur; Wilcox, Allen; McConnaughey, Robert et al. (2014) First-trimester nonsystemic corticosteroid use and the risk of oral clefts in Norway. Ann Epidemiol 24:635-40
Skuladottir, Hildur; Wilcox, Allen J; Ma, Chen et al. (2014) Corticosteroid use and risk of orofacial clefts. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol 100:499-506

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