Cleft palate (CP) is a common birth defect occurring in 1 in 2,500 live births. Approximately half of infants with CP have a syndromic form, exhibiting other physical and cognitive disabilities. The other half have nonsyndromic CP, and to date, few genes associated with risk for nonsyndromic CP have been characterized. To identify such risk factors, we performed a genome-wide association study of this disorder. We discovered a genome-wide significant association with a missense variant in GRHL3 (p.Thr454Met [c.1361C>T]; rs41268753; p = 4.08 × 10-9) and replicated the result in an independent sample of case and control subjects. In both the discovery and replication samples, rs41268753 conferred increased risk for CP (OR = 8.3, 95% CI 4.1-16.8; OR = 2.16, 95% CI 1.43-3.27, respectively). In luciferase transactivation assays, p.Thr454Met had about one-third of the activity of wild-type GRHL3, and in zebrafish embryos, perturbed periderm development. We conclude that this mutation is an etiologic variant for nonsyndromic CP and is one of few functional variants identified to date for nonsyndromic orofacial clefting. This finding advances our understanding of the genetic basis of craniofacial development and might ultimately lead to improvements in recurrence risk prediction, treatment, and prognosis.
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