Orofacial clefting: update on the role of genetics.B-ENT. 2006; 2 Suppl 4:20-4.B
Cleft lip with or without cleft palate (CL/P) is one of the most common birth defects in the world. Prevalence varies between populations, with an average of 1/700. CL/P has a major clinical impact, requiring surgical, dental, orthodontic, speech, hearing and psychological management throughout childhood. The aetiology of CL/P is mostly unknown, and it is thought that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Several causative genes for inherited syndromic forms of CL/P have been identified, and some recent studies have shown that these genes also contribute to the occurrence of isolated forms. Van der Woude syndrome (VWS) is one of the best models for non-syndromic CLP. It is an autosomal dominant disorder characterised by the presence of pits on the lower lip in addition to CL/P. Pits are the only feature distinguishing VWS from isolated clefts. Interestingly, in numerous VWS patients, the lip pits are very small and not readily diagnosed, thus mimicking isolated CL/P. Mutations in the IRF6 gene were shown to be the major genetic cause of VWS.'
We performed direct sequence analysis of IRF6 on samples from a large European cohort and identified mutations in 27 (80%) families. This shows that IRF6 is the major causative gene of VWS in Europe also. Moreover, it is the gene to study when a seemingly isolated CL/P patient has minor signs, such as lip pits, since the identification of a mutation in IRF6 is associated with an increase in the risk of having a child with CL/P from 4-6%, the risk of transmission of an isolated cleft, to 50%, the risk of transmission of a dominant Mendelian disorder like VWS. Moreover, we studied the association of isolated CL/P with the IRF6 locus using two variants in a set of 195 patients from Belgium. As in an American study, a clear association was observed. This suggests that IRF6 also contributes to the occurrence of sporadic, isolated CL/P, even if no mutation in the gene can be identified in such patients.
In conclusion, genes that are mutated in familial syndromic forms of CL/P may be predisposing genetic factors to sporadic isolated CL/P. Due to technological advances and the availability of the human genome sequence, we have now the opportunity to try and unravel the genetic factors behind the various forms of CL/P.