Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Human and Molecular Genetics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Jacqueline T. Hecht, PhD

Committee Member

Stephen Daiger, PhD

Committee Member

Richard H. Finnell, PhD

Committee Member

Michael Gambello, MD, PhD

Committee Member

Karen A. Storthz, PhD


Nonsyndromic cleft lip with or without cleft palate (NSCLP), a common, complex orofacial birth defect that affects approximately 4,000 newborns each year in the United States, is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Orofacial clefts affect the mouth and nose, causing severe deformity of the face, which require medical, dental and speech therapies. Despite having substantial genetic liability, less than 25% of the genetic contribute to NSCLP has been identified. The studies described in this thesis were performed to identify genes that contribute to NSCLP and to demonstrate the role of these genes in normal craniofacial development. Using genome scan and candidate gene approaches, novel associations with NSCLP were identified. These include MYH9 (7 SNPs, 0.009≤p<0.05), Wnt3A (4 SNPs, 0.001≤p≤0.005), Wnt11 (2 SNPs, 0.001≤p≤0.01) and CRISPLD2 (4 SNPs, 0.001≤p<0.05). The most interesting findings were for CRISPLD2. This gene is expressed in the fused mouse palate at E17.5. In zebrafish, crispld2 localized to the craniofacial region by one day post fertilization. Morpholino knockdown of crispld2 resulted in a lower survival rates and altered neural crest cell (NCC) clustering. Because NCCs form the tissues that populate the craniofacies, this NCC abnormality resulted in cartilage abnormalities of the jaw including fewer ceratobranchial cartilages forming the lower jaw (three pairs compared to five) and broader craniofacies compared to wild-type zebrafish. These findings suggest that the CRISPLD2 gene plays an important role in normal craniofacial development and perturbation of this gene in humans contributes to orofacial clefting. Overall, these results are important because they contribute to our understanding of normal craniofacial development and orofacial clefting etiology, information that can be used to develop better methods to diagnose, counsel and potentially treat NSCLP patients.


Cleft lip, cleft palate, gene identification, NSCLP, zebrafish, CRISPLD2, SNP



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