Congenital cardiovascular malformation (CVM) exhibits familial predisposition, but most of the specific genetic factors involved are unknown. Postulating that rare variants in genes in critical cardiac developmental pathways predispose to CVM, we systematically surveyed three genes of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling pathway for novel variants. Exonic, splice site, and untranslated regions of BMPR1A, BMPR2, and SMAD6 genes were sequenced in 90 unrelated sporadic cases of CVM. One nonsynonymous variant (p.C484F) with predicted functional impact was found in the MAD homology 2 domain of SMAD6, an intracellular inhibitor of BMP signaling. Sequencing this domain in an additional 346 cases of CVM yielded two further nonsynonymous variants (p.P415L and p.A325T). Functional effects of all three SMAD6 mutations were investigated using BMP signaling assays in vitro. Two SMAD6 variants (p.C484F and p.P415L) had significantly (P < 0.05) lower activity than wild-type SMAD6 in inhibiting BMP signaling in a transcriptional reporter assay. In addition, the p.C484F variant had a significantly (P < 0.05) lower capacity to inhibit an osteogenic response to BMP signaling. We conclude that low-frequency deleterious variants in SMAD6 predispose to CVM. This is the first report of a human disease phenotype related to genetic variation in SMAD6. Hum Mutat 33:720–727, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.