Reduced penetrance and variable expressivity are common, but poorly understood, features of most monogenic diseases. Genetic modifiers are possible factors to contribute to this phenotypic variability and blur the traditional distinction between monogenic and complex disease. Here, we propose to study the most common orofacial cleft syndrome (Van der Woude syndrome, VWS) and nonsyndromic orofacial clefts (OFCs), which intersect both in phenotype and in genetic etiology, as a model to understand reduced penetrance and variable expressivity. VWS occurs in 1 in 35,000 individuals and accounts for 2% of all OFCs. The features of VWS include an OFC and/or lower lip pits, but 15% of VWS patients present with an isolated OFC, making them indistinguishable from nonsyndromic OFC patients. Mutations in the genes IRF6 or GRHL3 cause VWS, but approximately 20% of VWS patients currently lack a molecular diagnosis. Furthermore, there are few genotype-phenotype correlations for known mutations and patient phenotypes. By contrast, GWAS of nonsyndromic OFCs have identified a number of risk factors, some of which we have shown increase risk for specific types of OFCs or act as modifiers of OFC subtypes. We have assembled the largest collection of VWS families in the world and whole genome sequence data from over 900 nonsyndromic OFC trios. We propose to use whole genome sequencing and SNP genotyping in both cohorts to identify the remaining genetic mutations for VWS, determine the relationship between those genes/regions with nonsyndromic OFCs, and identify rare and common modifiers of VWS and OFC phenotypes. These analyses will provide further insight into the genetic architecture of VWS and OFCs and will serve as a model for exploring links between other Mendelian disorders that share phenotypes with complex traits.
Orofacial clefts are common structural birth defects with variable phenotypic presentation and heterogeneous genetic causes. The goal of this study is to examine the genetic etiology of this phenotypic variability by studying the intersection of Van der Woude syndrome and nonsyndromic clefts, as exemplars of monogenic and complex forms of structural birth defects.