Nonsyndromic orofacial clefts (OFCs) are a heterogeneous group of common craniofacial birth defects with complex etiologies that include genetic and environmental risk factors. OFCs are commonly categorized as cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CL/P) and cleft palate alone (CP), which have historically been analyzed as distinct entities. Genes for both CL/P and CP have been identified via multiple genome-wide linkage and association studies (GWAS); however, altogether, known variants account for a minority of the estimated heritability in risk to these craniofacial birth defects. We performed genome-wide meta-analyses of CL/P, CP, and all OFCs across two large, multiethnic studies. We then performed population-specific meta-analyses in sub-samples of Asian and European ancestry. In addition to observing associations with known variants, we identified a novel genome-wide significant association between SNPs located in an intronic TP63 enhancer and CL/P (p = 1.16 × 10−8). Several novel loci with compelling candidate genes approached genome-wide significance on 4q21.1 (SHROOM3), 12q13.13 (KRT18), and 8p21 (NRG1). In the analysis of all OFCs combined, SNPs near FOXE1 reached genome-wide significance (p = 1.33 × 10−9). Our results support the highly heterogeneous nature of OFCs and illustrate the utility of meta-analysis for discovering new genetic risk factors.
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