Saethre-Chotzen syndrome is a genetic condition characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones (craniosynostosis). This early fusion prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face.

Most people with Saethre-Chotzen syndrome have prematurely fused skull bones along the coronal suture, the growth line that goes over the head from ear to ear. Other parts of the skull may be malformed as well. These changes can result in an abnormally shaped head, a high forehead, a low frontal hairline, droopy eyelids (ptosis), widely spaced eyes, and a broad nasal bridge. One side of the face may appear noticeably different from the other (facial asymmetry). Most people with Saethre-Chotzen syndrome also have small, unusually shaped ears.
The signs and symptoms of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome vary widely, even among affected individuals in the same family. This condition can cause mild abnormalities of the hands and feet, such as fusion of the skin between the second and third fingers on each hand and a broad or duplicated first (big) toe. Delayed development and learning difficulties have been reported, although most people with this condition are of normal intelligence. Less common signs and symptoms of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome include short stature, abnormalities of the bones of the spine (the vertebra), hearing loss, and heart defects.

Robinow-Sorauf syndrome is a condition with features similar to those of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome, including craniosynostosis and broad or duplicated great toes. It was once considered a separate disorder, but was found to result from mutations in the same gene and is now thought to be a mild variant of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome.

What are the genetic changes related to Saethre-Chotzen syndrome?

Mutations in the TWIST1 gene cause Saethre-Chotzen syndrome. The TWIST1 gene provides instructions for making a protein that plays an important role in early development. This protein is a transcription factor, which means that it attaches (binds) to specific regions of DNA and helps control the activity of particular genes. The TWIST1 protein is active in cells that give rise to bones, muscles, and other tissues in the head and face. It is also involved in the development of the limbs.

Mutations in the TWIST1 gene prevent one copy of the gene in each cell from making any functional protein. A shortage of the TWIST1 protein affects the development and maturation of cells in the skull, face, and limbs. These abnormalities underlie the signs and symptoms of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome, including the premature fusion of certain skull bones.

A small number of cases of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome have resulted from a structural chromosomal abnormality, such as a deletion or rearrangement of genetic material, in the region of chromosome 7 that contains the TWIST1 gene. When Saethre-Chotzen syndrome is caused by a chromosomal deletion instead of a mutation within the TWIST1 gene, affected children are much more likely to have intellectual disability, developmental delay, and learning difficulties. These features are typically not seen in classic cases of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome. Researchers believe that a loss of other genes on chromosome 7 may be responsible for these additional features.