The premature fusion of the paired frontal bones results in metopic craniosynostosis (MC) and gives rise to the clinical phenotype of trigonocephaly. Deletions of chromosome 9p22.3 are well described as a cause of MC with variably penetrant midface hypoplasia. In order to identify the gene responsible for the trigonocephaly component of the 9p22.3 syndrome, a cohort of 109 patients were assessed by high-resolution arrays and MLPA for copy number variations (CNVs) involving 9p22. Five CNVs involving FREM1, all of which were de novo variants, were identified by array-based analyses. The remaining 104 patients with MC were then subjected to targeted FREM1 gene re-sequencing, which identified 3 further mutant alleles, one of which was de novo. Consistent with a pathogenic role, mouse Frem1 mRNA and protein expression was demonstrated in the metopic suture as well as in the pericranium and dura mater. Micro-computed tomography based analyses of the mouse posterior frontal (PF) suture, the human metopic suture equivalent, revealed advanced fusion in all mice homozygous for either of two different Frem1 mutant alleles, while heterozygotes exhibited variably penetrant PF suture anomalies. Gene dosage-related penetrance of midfacial hypoplasia was also evident in the Frem1 mutants. These data suggest that CNVs and mutations involving FREM1 can be identified in a significant percentage of people with MC with or without midface hypoplasia. Furthermore, we present Frem1 mutant mice as the first bona fide mouse model of human metopic craniosynostosis and a new model for midfacial hypoplasia.
Although twin and family studies have shown that genes play a critical role in the timing of fusion of skull bones, the identification of specific genes that may be involved has remained somewhat elusive except in the case of the dominantly inherited craniosynostosis syndromes. Metopic craniosynostosis (MC), the early fusion of the forehead (frontal) bones, accounts for 5%–15% of all craniosynostosis cases. This premature fusion of the frontal bones results in a characteristically altered skull shape, termed trigonocephaly, that usually requires surgical correction. Remarkably, the cause of the majority of cases of MC remains unknown (idiopathic). Here, we report genetic variants involving chromosome 9 which involve and interrupt the structure of the FREM1 gene in a large cohort of patients presenting with unisutural metopic craniosynostosis. Micro-computed tomographic (microCT) imaging and quantitative analysis of skull shape reveal both premature fusion of the PF suture (metopic equivalent) and also changes in frontal bone shape supportive of a role for Frem1 in regulation of the metopic suture. Taken together with Frem1 gene and protein expression findings, these data indicate that mutations in FREM1 can give rise to metopic craniosynostosis.