Triplication of chromosome 21 (trisomy 21) results in Down syndrome (DS), the most common live-born human aneuploidy. Individuals with DS have a unique facial appearance that can include form changes and altered variability. Using 3D photogrammatic images, 3D coordinate locations of 20 anatomical landmarks, and Euclidean Distance Matrix Analysis methods, we quantitatively test the hypothesis that children with DS (n = 55) exhibit facial form and variance differences relative to two different age-matched (4–12 years) control samples of euploid individuals: biological siblings of individuals with DS (n = 55) and euploid individuals without a sibling with DS (n = 55). Approximately 36% of measurements differ significantly between DS and DS-sibling samples, whereas 46% differ significantly between DS and unrelated control samples. Nearly 14% of measurements differ significantly in variance between DS and DS sibling samples, while 18% of measurements differ significantly in variance between DS and unrelated euploid control samples. Of those measures that showed a significant difference in variance, all were relatively increased in the sample of DS individuals. These results indicate that faces of children with DS are quantitatively more similar to their siblings than to unrelated euploid individuals and exhibit consistent, but slightly increased variation with most individuals falling within the range of normal variation established by euploid samples. These observations provide indirect evidence of the strength of the genetic underpinnings of the resemblance between relatives and the resistance of craniofacial development to genetic perturbations caused by trisomy 21, while underscoring the complexity of the genotype–phenotype map.
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