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1.  A Prospective Cohort Study of the Prevalence of Growth, Facial, and Central Nervous System Abnormalities in Children with Heavy Prenatal Alcohol Exposure 
Most children who are exposed to large quantities of alcohol in utero do not develop fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Population-based prospective data on the risk of developing components of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), however, are limited.
This was a prospective cohort study of 9,628 women screened during their first prenatal appointment in Chile, which identified 101 who consumed at least 4 drinks/d (exposed) matched with 101 women with no reported alcohol consumption during pregnancy (unexposed). Detailed alcohol consumption data were collected during the pregnancy. Children were evaluated up to 8.5 years of age by clinicians masked to exposure status.
One or more functional central nervous system abnormalities were present in 44.0% (22/50) of the exposed children compared to 13.6% (6/44) of the unexposed (p = 0.002). Growth restriction was present in 27.2% (25/92) of the exposed and 12.5% (12/96) of the unexposed (p = 0.02). Abnormal facial features were present in 17.3% (14/81) of the exposed children compared to 1.1% (1/89) of the unexposed children (p = 0.0002) by direct examination. Of the 59 exposed children with data available to detect at least 1 abnormality, 12 (20.3%) had no abnormalities. Binge drinking from conception to recognition of pregnancy (OR = 1.48 per day, 95% CI: 1.15 to 1.91, p = 0.002) and after recognition of pregnancy (OR= 1.41 per day, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.95, p = 0.04) and total number of drinks consumed per week from conception to recognition of pregnancy (OR = 1.02 per drink, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.04, p = 0.0009) were significantly associated with abnormal child outcome.
After exposure to heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy, 80% of children had 1 or more abnormalities associated with alcohol exposure. Patterns of alcohol use that posed the greatest risk of adverse outcomes were binge drinking and high total weekly intake. Functional neurologic impairment occurred most frequently and may be the only sign to alert physicians to prenatal alcohol exposure.
PMCID: PMC4162305  PMID: 22823161
Alcohol; Pregnancy; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders; Growth Restriction; Neurodevelopment
2.  Anorectal atresia and variants at predicted regulatory sites in candidate genes 
Annals of human genetics  2012;77(1):31-46.
Anorectal atresia is a serious birth defect of largely unknown etiology but candidate genes have been identified in animal studies and human syndromes. Because alterations in the activity of these genes might lead to anorectal atresia, we selected 71 common variants predicted to be in transcription factor binding sites, CpG windows, splice sites, and miRNA target sites of 25 candidate genes, and tested for their association with anorectal atresia. The study population comprised 150 anorectal atresia cases and 623 control infants without major malformations. Variants predicted to affect transcription factor binding, splicing, and DNA methylation in WNT3A, PCSK5, TCF4, MKKS, GLI2, HOXD12, and BMP4 were associated with anorectal atresia based on a nominal P value <0.05. The GLI2 and BMP4 variants are reported to be moderately associated with gene expression changes (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficients between −0.260 and 0.226). We did not find evidence for interaction between maternal pre-pregnancy obesity and variants in MKKS, a gene previously associated with obesity, on the risk of anorectal atresia. Our results for MKKS support previously suggested associations with anorectal malformations. Our findings suggest that more research is needed to determine whether altered GLI2 and BMP4 expression is important in anorectal atresia in humans.
PMCID: PMC3535506  PMID: 23127126
anorectal malformations; imperforate anus; hindgut; congenital abnormalities
3.  Hirschsprung’s disease and variants in genes that regulate enteric neural crest cell proliferation, migration and differentiation 
Journal of human genetics  2012;57(8):485-493.
Hirschsprung’s disease (HSCR) results from failed colonization of the embryonic gut by enteric neural crest cells (ENCCs); colonization requires RET proto-oncogene (RET) signaling. We sequenced RET to identify coding and splice-site variants in a population-based case group and we tested for associations between HSCR and common variants in RET and candidate genes (ASCL1, HOXB5, L1CAM, PHOX2B, PROK1, PROKR1) chosen because they are involved in ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation in animal models. We conducted a nested case-control study of 304 HSCR cases and 1 215 controls. Among 38 (12.5%) cases with 34 RET coding and splice-site variants, 18 variants were previously unreported. We confirmed associations with common variants in HOXB5 and PHOX2B but the associations with variants in ASCL1, L1CAM, and PROK1 were not significant after multiple comparisons adjustment. RET variants were strongly associated with HSCR (P values between 10−3 and 10−31) but this differed by race/ethnicity: associations were absent in African-Americans. Our population-based study not only identified novel RET variants in HSCR cases, it showed that common RET variants may not contribute to HSCR in all race/ethnic groups. The findings for HOXB5 and PHOX2B provide supportive evidence that genes regulating ENCC proliferation, migration, and differentiation could be risk factors for HSCR.
PMCID: PMC3503526  PMID: 22648184
congenital abnormalities; enteric nervous system; Hirschsprung disease; RET
4.  Evaluation of Genes Involved in Limb Development, Angiogenesis, and Coagulation as Risk Factors for Congenital Limb Deficiencies 
We conducted a population-based case-control study of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in selected genes to find common variants that play a role in the etiology of limb deficiencies (LD)s. Included in the study were 389 infants with LDs of unknown cause and 980 unaffected controls selected from all births in New York State (NYS) for the years 1998 to 2005. We used cases identified from the NYS Department of Health (DOH) Congenital Malformations Registry. Genotypes were obtained for 132 SNPs in genes involved in limb development (SHH, WNT7A, FGF4, FGF8, FGF10, TBX3, TBX5, SALL4, GREM1, GDF5, CTNNB1, EN1, CYP26A1, CYP26B1), angiogenesis (VEGFA, HIF1A, NOS3), and coagulation (F2, F5, MTHFR). Genotype call rates were >97% and SNPs were tested for departure from Hardy-Weinberg expectations by race/ethnic subgroups. For each SNP, odds ratios (OR)s and confidence intervals (CI)s were estimated and corrected for multiple comparisons for all LDs combined and for LD subtypes. Among non-Hispanic white infants, associations between FGF10 SNPs rs10805683 and rs13170645 and all LDs combined were statistically significant following correction for multiple testing (OR=1.99; 95% CI=1.43-2.77; uncorrected p=0.000043 for rs10805683 heterozygous genotype, and OR=2.37; 95% CI=1.48-3.78; uncorrected p=0.00032 for rs13170645 homozygous minor genotype). We also observed suggestive evidence for associations with SNPs in other genes including CYP26B1 and WNT7A. Animal studies have shown that FGF10 induces formation of the apical ectodermal ridge and is necessary for limb development. Our data suggest that common variants in FGF10 increase the risk for a wide range of non-syndromic limb deficiencies.
PMCID: PMC3448837  PMID: 22965740
limb deficiencies; polymorphisms; FGF10
5.  A genome-wide association study identifies susceptibility loci for non-syndromic sagittal craniosynostosis near BMP2 and within BBS9 
Nature genetics  2012;44(12):1360-1364.
Sagittal craniosynostosis is the most common form of craniosynostosis, affecting approximately one of 5,000 newborns. We conducted the first genome-wide association study (GWAS) for non-syndromic sagittal craniosynostosis (sNSC) using 130 non-Hispanic white (NHW) case-parent trios. Robust associations were observed in a 120 kb region downstream of BMP2, flanked by rs1884302 (P = 1.13 × 10−14; odds ratio [OR] = 4.58) and rs6140226 (P = 3.40 × 10−11; OR = 0.24) and within a 167 kb region of BBS9 between rs10262453 (P = 1.61 × 10−10; OR=0.19) and rs17724206 (P = 1.50 × 10−8; OR = 0.22). We replicated the associations to both loci [rs1884302 (P = 4.39 × 10−31); rs10262453 (P = 3.50 × 10−14)] in an independent NHW population of 172 unrelated sNSC probands and 548 controls. Both BMP2 and BBS9 are genes with a role in skeletal development warranting functional studies to further understand the etiology of sNSC.
PMCID: PMC3736322  PMID: 23160099
genome-wide association study; non-syndromic sagittal craniosynostosis; BMP2; BBS9; meta-analysis; nonsyndromic
6.  Phenotype-specific adverse effects of XPD mutations on human prenatal development implicate impairment of TFIIH-mediated functions in placenta 
Mutations in XPD (ERCC2), XPB (ERCC3), and TTD-A (GTF2H5), genes involved in nucleotide excision repair and transcription, can cause several disorders including trichothiodystrophy (TTD) and xeroderma pigmentosum (XP). In this study, we tested the hypothesis that mutations in the XPD gene affect placental development in a phenotype-specific manner. To test our hypothesis and decipher potential biologic mechanisms, we compared all XPD-associated TTD (n=43) and XP (n=37) cases reported in the literature with respect to frequencies of gestational complications. Our genetic epidemiologic investigations of TTD and XP revealed that the exact genetic abnormality was relevant to the mechanism leading to gestational complications such as preeclampsia. Through structural mapping, we localized the preeclampsia-associated mutations to a C-terminal motif and the helicase surfaces of XPD, most likely affecting XPD's binding to cdk-activating kinase (CAK) and p44 subunits of transcription factor (TF) IIH. Our results suggested a link between TTD- but not XP-associated XPD mutations, placental maldevelopment and risk of pregnancy complications, possibly due to impairment of TFIIH-mediated functions in placenta. Our findings highlight the importance of the fetal genotype in development of gestational complications, such as preeclampsia. Therefore, future studies of genetic associations of preeclampsia and other placental vascular complications may benefit from focusing on genetic variants within the fetal DNA.
PMCID: PMC3355251  PMID: 22234153
trichothiodystrophy; xeroderma pigmentosum; XPD; TFIIH; human fetal development
7.  Evaluation of common genetic variants in 82 candidate genes as risk factors for neural tube defects 
BMC Medical Genetics  2012;13:62.
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common birth defects (~1 in 1000 pregnancies in the US and Europe) that have complex origins, including environmental and genetic factors. A low level of maternal folate is one well-established risk factor, with maternal periconceptional folic acid supplementation reducing the occurrence of NTD pregnancies by 50-70%. Gene variants in the folate metabolic pathway (e.g., MTHFR rs1801133 (677 C > T) and MTHFD1 rs2236225 (R653Q)) have been found to increase NTD risk. We hypothesized that variants in additional folate/B12 pathway genes contribute to NTD risk.
A tagSNP approach was used to screen common variation in 82 candidate genes selected from the folate/B12 pathway and NTD mouse models. We initially genotyped polymorphisms in 320 Irish triads (NTD cases and their parents), including 301 cases and 341 Irish controls to perform case–control and family based association tests. Significantly associated polymorphisms were genotyped in a secondary set of 250 families that included 229 cases and 658 controls. The combined results for 1441 SNPs were used in a joint analysis to test for case and maternal effects.
Nearly 70 SNPs in 30 genes were found to be associated with NTDs at the p < 0.01 level. The ten strongest association signals (p-value range: 0.0003–0.0023) were found in nine genes (MFTC, CDKN2A, ADA, PEMT, CUBN, GART, DNMT3A, MTHFD1 and T (Brachyury)) and included the known NTD risk factor MTHFD1 R653Q (rs2236225). The single strongest signal was observed in a new candidate, MFTC rs17803441 (OR = 1.61 [1.23-2.08], p = 0.0003 for the minor allele). Though nominally significant, these associations did not remain significant after correction for multiple hypothesis testing.
To our knowledge, with respect to sample size and scope of evaluation of candidate polymorphisms, this is the largest NTD genetic association study reported to date. The scale of the study and the stringency of correction are likely to have contributed to real associations failing to survive correction. We have produced a ranked list of variants with the strongest association signals. Variants in the highest rank of associations are likely to include true associations and should be high priority candidates for further study of NTD risk.
PMCID: PMC3458983  PMID: 22856873
Neural tube defects; Spina bifida; Folic acid; One-carbon metabolism; Candidate gene

Results 1-8 (8)