Trisomy 21 and facial developmental instability


Correspondence to: Joan Richtsmeier, Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. E-mail:


The most common live-born human aneuploidy is trisomy 21, which causes Down syndrome (DS). Dosage imbalance of genes on chromosome 21 (Hsa21) affects complex gene-regulatory interactions and alters development to produce a wide range of phenotypes, including characteristic facial dysmorphology. Little is known about how trisomy 21 alters craniofacial morphogenesis to create this characteristic appearance. Proponents of the "amplified developmental instability" hypothesis argue that trisomy 21 causes a generalized genetic imbalance that disrupts evolutionarily conserved developmental pathways by decreasing developmental homeostasis and precision throughout development. Based on this model, we test the hypothesis that DS faces exhibit increased developmental instability relative to euploid individuals. Developmental instability was assessed by a statistical analysis of fluctuating asymmetry. We compared the magnitude and patterns of fluctuating asymmetry among siblings using three-dimensional coordinate locations of 20 anatomic landmarks collected from facial surface reconstructions in four age-matched samples ranging from 4 to 12 years: 1) DS individuals (n = 55); 2) biological siblings of DS individuals (n = 55); 3) and 4) two samples of typically developing individuals (n = 55 for each sample), who are euploid siblings and age-matched to the DS individuals and their euploid siblings (samples 1 and 2). Identification in the DS sample of facial prominences exhibiting increased fluctuating asymmetry during facial morphogenesis provides evidence for increased developmental instability in DS faces. We found the highest developmental instability in facial structures derived from the mandibular prominence and lowest in facial regions derived from the frontal prominence. Am J Phys Anthropol 151:49–57, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.