Structural Birth Defects: Moebius Syndrome And Related Facial Weakness Disorders

It is estimated that about 1 in every 33 infants in the United States is born with a birth defect. Among these, the subset of birth defect syndromes associated with facial weakness and lack of facial expression can have profound implications for social interactions and psychosocial development. Moebius syndrome is defined by congenital and non-progressive facial weakness and limited eye abduction, and most cases are believed to result from dysfunction of cranial nuclei/nerves VI and VII. Although rare, this syndrome causes significant impairment because of facial weakness and associated intellectual disabilities, autism, hearing loss, difficulty swallowing and breathing, peripheral neuropathy, muscle hypotonia, heart defects, chest wall abnormalities, and limb malformations. The phenotypic spectrum and the associated genetic and environmental factors underlying Moebius syndrome are poorly understood. The goal of this research is to identify causative gene mutations for Moebius syndrome and related conditions, such as Moebius-Poland or -Robin sequence, hereditary congenital facial paresis (HCFP), and oculoauriculovertebral dysplasia (Goldenhar syndrome). This proposal builds on an ongoing collaboration among researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, NHGRI intramural program, and the Moebius Syndrome Foundation, but aims to greatly extend that work by collaboration with investigators in the NIH Clinical Center (CC). Our groups have already defined a new autosomal dominant syndrome with Moebius syndrome, Kallmann syndrome, cyclic vomiting resulting from a TUBB3 E410K substitution. We have also identified a new autosomal recessive Moebius related syndrome with bilateral facial palsy, hearing loss, and strabismus resulting from a HOXB1 R207C substitution. Through collaborative efforts of these extramural teams with intramural investigators, whole exome sequencing (WES) has been conducted for four families with Moebius-like features, and data analyses are ongoing. The overall goal of this project is to conduct extensive phenotype analysis on approximately 24 families per year with Moebius and other undefined syndromes with facial weakness. Studies to be conducted at the CC include neurology, psychiatry, neurocognitive, rehabilitation medicine (muscle strength, speech/language pathology), ophthalmology, audiology, and genetics evaluations; autism screening; electromyography, nerve conduction, and blink reflex studies; videoscopy of quantitative eye movement recordings; 3D-CT craniofacial imaging; MRI of the brain, orbit, internal auditory canals, posterior fossa including brain diffusion tensor imaging for tractography; and genetic counseling. Jointly with the extramural teams, WES analysis and variant confirmation will be performed. A more comprehensive definition of the phenotypic and genotypic spectrum of these birth defects will have a significant impact on our understanding of the molecular pathways underlying dysmorphologies, cranial nerve development, and more common childhood disorders such as autism. Thus, this project will lead to strategies for prevention and treatment of birth defects.