Many common developmental disorders are thought to arise from a complex set of genetic and environmental risk factors. These factors interact with each other to affect the strength and duration of key developmental signaling pathways, thereby increasing the possibility that they fail to achieve the thresholds required for normal embryonic patterning. One such disorder, holoprosencephaly (HPE), serves as a useful model system in understanding various forms of multifactorial etiology. Genomic analysis of HPE cases, epidemiology, and mechanistic studies of animal models have illuminated multiple potential ways that risk factors interact to produce adverse developmental outcomes. Among these are: 1) interactions between driver and modifier genes; 2) oligogenic inheritance, wherein each parent provides predisposing variants in one or multiple distinct loci; 3) interactions between genetic susceptibilities and environmental risk factors that may be insufficient on their own; and 4) interactions of multiple genetic variants with multiple non-genetic risk factors. These studies combine to provide concepts that illuminate HPE and are also applicable to additional disorders with complex etiology, including neural tube defects, congenital heart defects, and oro-facial clefting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number795194
JournalFrontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology
StatePublished - 22 Dec 2021


  • birth defect
  • epidemiology
  • fetal alcohol
  • genetics
  • hedgehog signaling
  • holoprosencephaly
  • teratogen


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