A dozen genes/regions have been confirmed as genetic risk factors for oral clefts in human association and linkage studies, and animal models argue even more genes may be involved. Genomic sequencing studies should identify specific causal variants and may reveal additional genes as influencing risk to oral clefts, which have a complex and heterogeneous etiology. We conducted a whole exome sequencing (WES) study to search for potentially causal variants using affected relatives drawn from multiplex cleft families. Two or three affected second, third, and higher degree relatives from 55 multiplex families were sequenced. We examined rare single nucleotide variants (SNVs) shared by affected relatives in 348 recognized candidate genes. Exact probabilities that affected relatives would share these rare variants were calculated, given pedigree structures, and corrected for the number of variants tested. Five novel and potentially damaging SNVs shared by affected distant relatives were found and confirmed by Sanger sequencing. One damaging SNV in CDH1, shared by three affected second cousins from a single family, attained statistical significance (P = 0.02 after correcting for multiple tests). Family-based designs such as the one used in this WES study offer important advantages for identifying genes likely to be causing complex and heterogeneous disorders.
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