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Syndromic Ear Anomalies and Renal Ultrasounds
Raymond Y. Wang, MD*; Dawn L. Earl, RN, CPNP; Robert O. Ruder, MD; andJohn M. Graham, Jr, MD, ScD
ABSTRACT. Objective. Although many pediatricianspursue renal ultrasonography when patients are noted tohave external ear malformations, there is much confusionover which specific ear malformations do and do notrequire imaging. The objective of this study was to de-lineate characteristics of a child with external ear malfor-mations that suggest a greater risk of renal anomalies. Wehighlight several multiple congenital anomaly (MCA)syndromes that should be considered in a patient whohas both ear and renal anomalies.
Methods. Charts of patients who had ear anomaliesand were seen for clinical genetics evaluations between1981 and 2000 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LosAngeles and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center inNew Hampshire were reviewed retrospectively. Only pa-tients who underwent renal ultrasound were included inthe chart review. The literature was reviewed for theepidemiology of renal anomalies in the general popula-tion and in MCA syndromes with external ear anomalies.We defined a child as having an external ear anomalywhen he or she had any of the following: preauricularpits and tags; microtia; anotia; or cup, lop, and otherforms of dysplastic ears. A child was defined as having arenal anomaly if an ultrasound revealed any of the fol-lowing: unilateral or bilateral renal agenesis; hypoplasia;crossed ectopia; horseshoe, pelvic, cystic kidney; hydro-nephrosis; duplicated ureters; megaureter; or vesico-ureteric reflux.
Results. Because clinical genetics assessments weremade by the same clinician at both sites (J.M.G.), datawere combined. A total of 42 patients with ear anomaliesreceived renal ultrasound; 12 (29%) of them displayedrenal anomalies. Of the 12 patients with renal anomalies,11 (92%) also received a diagnosis of MCA syndrome.Eleven of 33 patients (33%) with MCA syndromes hadrenal anomalies, whereas 1 of 9 patients (11%) with iso-lated ear anomalies had renal anomalies. Specific disor-ders seen were CHARGE association, Townes-Brockssyndrome, branchio-oto-renal syndrome, Nager syn-drome, and diabetic embryopathy.
Conclusions. We conclude that ear malformations areassociated with an increased frequency of clinically sig-nificant structural renal anomalies compared with thegeneral population. This is due to the observation thatauricular malformations often are associated with spe-
cific MCA syndromes that have high incidences of renalanomalies. These include CHARGE association, Townes-Brocks syndrome, branchio-oto-renal syndrome, Nagersyndrome, Miller syndrome, and diabetic embryopathy.Patients with auricular anomalies should be assessedcarefully for accompanying dysmorphic features, includ-ing facial asymmetry; colobomas of the lid, iris, andretina; choanal atresia; jaw hypoplasia; branchial cysts orsinuses; cardiac murmurs; distal limb anomalies; andimperforate or anteriorly placed anus. If any of thesefeatures are present, then a renal ultrasound is useful notonly in discovering renal anomalies but also in the diag-nosis and management of MCA syndromes themselves.A renal ultrasound should be performed in patients withisolated preauricular pits, cup ears, or any other earanomaly accompanied by 1 or more of the following:other malformations or dysmorphic features, a familyhistory of deafness, auricular and/or renal malforma-tions, or a maternal history of gestational diabetes. In theabsence of these findings, renal ultrasonography is notindicated. Pediatrics 2001;108(2). URL: http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/108/2/e32; external ear, re-nal, anomalies, ultrasound.
ABBREVIATIONS. BOR, branchio-oto-renal; MCA, multiple con-genital anomaly; TBS, Townes-Brocks Syndrome; OAVS, oculoau-riculovertebral spectrum; M/A, microtia/anotia; IDM, infant of adiabetic mother; TCS, Treacher Collins syndrome.
Many studies in the literature have noted asignificant association between renal anom-alies and various ear anomalies. Ear pitsand tags, perhaps the most common minor ear mal-formation, occur with a frequency of 5 to 6 per 1000live births.1,2 In the pediatric population, structuralrenal anomalies occur in 1 to 3 per 100 live births.35Kohelet and Arbel6 noted that among 70 consecutivechildren who had isolated preauricular tags andwere examined by renal ultrasonography, 6 (8.6%)had urinary tract abnormalities (5 with hydrone-phrosis, 1 with horseshoe kidney). In a separatestudy, among 69 children who had preauricular si-nuses and were examined by renal ultrasound, 3(4.3%) demonstrated renal anomalies (2 with hydro-nephrosis, 1 with branchio-oto-renal (BOR) syn-drome and an absent left kidney and hypoplasticright kidney).7 A recent study3 of 32 589 consecutivelive births, still births, and abortions over 10 years inthe Mainz Congenital Birth Defect Monitoring Sys-tem noted a 1.2% prevalence of renal anomalies.External ear anomalies of all types, including defor-mations from fetal constraint, were found in 19.0% ofall newborns, compared with 23.8% in newborns
From the *University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, School of Medicine; De-partment of Medical Genetics, Ahmanson Department of Pediatrics, StevenSpielberg Pediatric Research Center, Burns and Allen Research Institute,Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Department of Pediatrics, University ofCaliforniaLos Angeles; and Department of Plastic and ReconstructiveSurgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, University of CaliforniaLos Ange-les, Los Angeles, California.Received for publication Jan 18, 2001; accepted Apr 9, 2001.Reprint requests to (J.M.G.) 444 S San Vicente Blvd, Ste 1001, Mark GoodsonBuilding, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA 90048.PEDIATRICS (ISSN 0031 4005). Copyright 2001 by the American Acad-emy of Pediatrics.
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with renal malformations, showing a slightly signif-icant increased risk (odds ratio: 1.3) for renal anom-alies in children with ear anomalies. After patientswith syndromic diagnoses were excluded, there con-tinued to be a strong association between auricularpits or cup ears and specific renal anomalies but noassociation between auricular tags and renal de-fects.3
Given the wealth of data indicating an associationbetween ear and renal anomalies, the question is,Should all children with ear anomalies receive renalultrasonography? We note that in children with earanomalies, defects within all other organ systemsoccur with a frequency of 5% to 40%.1,2,810 We alsonote that ear and renal anomalies are components ofmany multiple congenital anomaly (MCA) syn-dromes. We present here data from our own geneticsclinic regarding MCA syndrome diagnoses and theincidence of renal anomalies in patients with earanomalies. We then review some of the more signif-icant MCA syndromes with ear and renal anomalies.
METHODSCharts of patients who had ear anomalies and were seen for
clinical genetics evaluations at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center andDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center between 1981 and 2000were reviewed retrospectively. Only patients who underwent re-nal ultrasound were included in the chart review. Because clinicalgenetics assessments were made by the same clinician at both sites(J.M.G.), data were combined. The literature regarding MCA syn-dromes with ear anomalies was reviewed for epidemiology andreports of associated renal anomalies.
RESULTSA total of 42 patients with ear anomalies received
a renal ultrasound; 12 (29%) of them displayed renalanomalies. These results are summarized in Table 1.Of the 12 patients with renal anomalies, 11 (92%) alsoreceived a diagnosis of MCA syndrome. Percentagesof renal anomalies in patients with an MCA syn-drome are summarized in Table 2.
Fig 1. Top, typical child with CHARGEassociation illustrating low-set, posteri-orly angulated ears with deficient carti-lage and absent lobules. Note the iriscolobomas and facial asymmetry in thispatient. Bottom, 4 pairs of ears fromchildren affected with CHARGE associ-ation demonstrating typical auriculardysmorphology and asymmetry.
TABLE 1. Percentages of Patients Seen at Cedars-Sinai andDartmouth-Hitchcock Genetics Clinic With Renal Anomalies
Condition n Number WithRenal Anomalies
Isolated ear anomaly 9 1 (11%)MCA syndrome 33 11 (33%)Total 42 12 (28.5%)
TABLE 2. Percentages of Patients With MCA Syndrome andRenal Anomalies
MCA Syndrome n Number WithRenal Anomalies
CHARGE association 11 4 (36%)OAVS 8 0 (0%)BOR 7* 2 (29%)Diabetic embryopathy 3 2 (66%)Nager syndrome 3 2 (66%)TBS 2 1 (50%)
* Several of these patients had been diagnosed previously as hav-ing Goldenhar syndrome because they had ear anomalies andepibulbar dermoids but were found subsequently to have linkageto the locus on 8q for EYA1.11
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Clinical Syndromes With Associated Renal Anomalies
CHARGE Association/SyndromeThe majority of patients with CHARGE association
represent sporadic occurrences in an otherwise nor-mal family, with several reports supporting the pos-sibility of autosomal dominant transmission.CHARGE association encompasses a wide spectrumof nonrandomly associated malformations, which in-clude coloboma of iris or retina (80%90%), heartdefects (75%80%; commonly conotruncal), atresiachoanae (50%60%), retarded growth (70%) and de-velopment (100%), genital hypoplasia (70%80%),and ear defects (90%).11 Figure 1 shows the triangu-lar concha, prominent antihelix, and absent lobulecharacteristic of CHARGE ears. Renal anomalies oc-cur in 15% to 25% of patients with CHARGE associ-ation. Also commonly seen are cleft lip and/or cleftpalate (15%20%) and tracheoesophageal fistula withesophageal atresia (15%20%).11
Recent reports document increasing evidence for asyndromic subset of patients within the spectrum of
CHARGE association displaying iris colobomas;choanal atresia; ear anomalies; and cranial nerve VII,IX, and X palsies with semicircular canal, cochlear,and temporal bone hypoplasia.12,13
CHARGE association has superficial similarity torenal-coloboma syndrome, which is caused by mu-tations in the PAX2 gene, and also to DiGeorge se-quence, which can be caused by deletion of chromo-some 22q11, but these genetic abnormalities havebeen eliminated as causes of CHARGE association.14
Townes-Brocks SyndromeTownes-Brocks syndrome (TBS), an autosomal
dominant disorder, is caused by a mutation in theSALL1 transcription factor gene, which is expressedin the developing ear, limb buds, and excretory or-gans.15 Like many other autosomal dominant disor-ders, phenotypic expression is extremely variable butshould include 2 or more of the following: bilateralexternal ear malformation (71%), hand malforma-
Fig 2. TBS proband with mild auric-ular anomaly and hypoplastic thumbs(also had imperforate anus).
Fig 3. A second TBS proband demonstrat-ing cup ears and hypoplastic thumbs (alsohad anteriorly placed anus and renal anom-aly).
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tions (56%), and imperforate anus or rectovaginal/rectourethral fistula (47%).16
Ear defects, seen in Figs 2 and 3, can include mi-crotia; overfolded superior helix; satyr, lop, orcup ear; and preauricular pits or tags; some pub-lished cases of SALL1 mutations have had ears thatresembled those seen in CHARGE association. Handmalformations consist mainly of preaxial ray defects,which can range from polydactyly of a biphalangealthumb to triphalangeal thumb or thenar hypopla-sia.17 Renal malformations have been noted in 27% ofpatients with TBS.16
Considerable similarity also exists between TBSand BOR ear anomalies, and this has been empha-sized in the clinical literature,18 along with 1 report ofa 3-generation family with overlapping features ofTBS and oculoauriculovertebral spectrum (OAVS)with triphalangeal thumbs, preauricular tags, abnor-mal tragus, overfolded superior helices, redundantanal skin in 2 individuals, micrognathia and macros-tomia in 2 individuals, and epibulbar dermoids in all3 individuals.19
Oculoauriculovertebral SpectrumOAVS encompasses a broad variety and severity
of defects in structures derived from the first andsecond branchial arches. It is predominantly spo-radic in occurrence, with reports of autosomal dom-inant transmission in only 1% to 2% of cases.
Commonly observed malformations in OAVS in-clude epibulbar dermoids (benign growths on themedial/lateral aspects of the cornea), preauriculartags and pits, microtia with accompanying conduc-tive hearing loss, and small jaw resulting in an asym-metric face.20 Patients with these features in conjunc-tion with cleft lip and/or cleft palate and thoracichemivertebrae are termed to have Goldenhar syn-drome, a more severe form of OAVS.
The epidemiology of OAVS and isolated microtia/anotia (M/A) are similar, with a frequency of ap-proximately 1.8 per 10 000 births; a male:female ratioof 3:2; and 70% to 90% unilateral involvement, ofwhich 60% are right sided and 40% are left sided.Increasingly, isolated M/A is being considered as themildest expression of OAVS.20,21
The largest collected population of patients withOAVS was found to have a 5% prevalence (16 of 294)of genitourinary malformations, but this study in-cluded renal malformations with genital defects suchas hypospadias, hydrocele, chordae penis, cryp-torchidism, and scrotal anomalies.20 Thus, it is un-known what portion of that 5% was accounted for byrenal anomalies. Renal anomalies were noted in 4%of all cases of M/A.810
BOR SyndromeBOR syndrome, an autosomal dominant disorder,
is caused by a mutation in the eyeless (EYA1) tran-
Fig 4. BOR proband (IV 19) whose initialdiagnosis with familial Goldenhar syn-drome because of severe micrognathia,conjunctival dermoids, and microtia. Abranchial cleft cyst is evident on the left sideof his neck, just above his tracheostomycollar.
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scription factor gene and has a frequency of 1 in40 000 live births. Approximately 60% of cases havebranchial cysts or fistulas, usually found on the ex-ternal lower third of the neck, at the median borderof the sternocleidomastoid muscle (Fig 4), and 30% to60% of patients with BOR have ear anomalies thatrange from severe microtia to small, lop or cuppedears with overfolded superior helices similar to TBSears (Fig 5). Preauricular pits are present in 70% to80% and sometimes can be the only external earfinding. At least 75% have conductive, sensorineural,or mixed hearing loss, and 12% to 20% have struc-tural kidney anomalies.22
BOR has extremely variable expression, and evenwithin the same family, affected individuals showdiffering phenotypes (Fig 6). Some members havekidney malformations, whereas others may havemalformations so subtle that imaging cannot identifythem. There are conflicting reports as to whetherbranchio-oto (BO) syndrome is a variant of BORsyndrome; some studies of BO families show linkageto EYA1,23 whereas others do not.24,25 Two otherEYA1 homologs have been cloned, and it is possiblethat some cases of BO are caused by mutations inthese other EYA genes or in other genes in the EYAsignaling pathways.
Diabetic EmbryopathyInfants of diabetic mothers (IDMs) have been
noted to have malformations in a wide variety oforgan systems as a result of the direct and indirectteratogenic effects of hyperglycemia on the develop-
ing embryo. This is evidenced by both studies inanimal models and the observation that the risk forfetal malformations increases with elevations in gly-cosylated hemoglobin.26,27 In addition to macroso-mia, infants who are born to mothers who haveeither chronic or gestational diabetes are at increasedrisk for dysplastic ears (Fig 7), holoprosencephaly,spine/rib malformations such as caudal dysgenesis,and renal/urinary defects (Martnez-Fras ML, un-published data).5 Other defects ascribed to IDMsinclude respiratory hypoplasia, cardiovascular de-fects, gastrointestinal tract atresia, oculoauriculover-tebral sequence, and limb reduction.5,28
Treacher Collins SyndromeTreacher Collins syndrome (TCS) is an autosomal
dominant condition caused by mutations in the trea-cle gene, the function of which has not been deter-mined. TCS comprises mostly craniofacial abnormal-ities of structures derived from the first branchialarch, including downslanting palpebral fissures,lower lid colobomas, depressed cheekbones, bilateralmicrotia, conductive hearing loss, micrognathia, cleftpalate, and pharyngeal hypoplasia. Renal anomaliesare not recognized as part of this syndrome.29,30
Nager SyndromeNager syndrome is a disorder whose craniofacial
features are very similar to those of TCS. Mandibularhypoplasia tends to be more severe than that of TCSand commonly results in respiratory distress; how-ever, limb defects, specifically preaxial anomalies
Fig 5. Ears of affected siblings (top, IV 10 and IV 11; bottom, IV 16 and IV 21) of the BOR proband in Fig 4 again showing markedvariability in ear dysmorphology. Only patient IV 21 had a detectable renal anomaly (single kidney). Note the preauricular pits of IV 11.
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(hypoplastic or absent thumbs and radii), are theprincipal distinguishing feature. Defects also can beseen in the lower extremitieshypoplastic hallucesand other absent toes. Renal malformations werefound in 7 of 78 (9%) of affected individuals.3134 Themode of inheritance remains unclear; both autosomaldominant and autosomal recessive inheritance hasbeen suggested.
Miller SyndromeMiller syndrome is extremely rare, with only 18
reported cases in the literature. Like Nager syn-drome, craniofacial features are similar to TCS, butlower-lid ectropion is much more pronounced inMiller syndrome than in the other facial dysostoses.The cardinal finding of Miller syndrome is ulnarlimb deficiencies such as ulnar hypoplasia and fifthfinger and/or toe agenesis or underdevelopment.Reflux and hydronephrosis were noted in 1 of the 18cases (5.5%).35
DISCUSSIONIn 1946, Edith Potters association of crumpled,
flattened ears with bilateral kidney agenesis36 led
pediatricians to routinely order renal ultrasounds inchildren with virtually any type of ear anomaly.Although there are many articles in the literatureabout this subject, no set of uniform standards existsfor determining which types of ear anomalies requirerenal imaging. Population studies do show an in-creased incidence of renal malformations in childrenwith ear anomalies. The Mainz Congenital Birth De-fect Monitoring System study suggested that minorear anomalies are extremely common and that pitsand cup ears are more likely to be associated withrenal defects than ear tags in an otherwise normal-appearing infant.3 This may reflect detection of spo-radic cases of occult BOR. Ear and renal anomaliesoften are components of other MCA syndromes, par-ticularly CHARGE association, TBS, Nager syn-drome, Miller syndrome, and diabetic embryopathy.Table 3 summarizes the history and examinationfindings found in patients with these syndromes. Apatient with isolated preauricular pit(s), cup ears, oran ear anomaly accompanied by positive findings inany of these areas should undergo a renal ultrasoundto aid in diagnosis of these syndromes. Otherwise, arenal ultrasound is not recommended.
Fig 6. Pedigree of family in Fig 5 thatdemonstrated linkage to the EYA1 locuson 8q11 to 13. Note the marked variabilityin phenotypic expression.
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Finally, because of the profoundly deleterious ef-fects of delayed diagnosis of hearing impairment ona childs communication and social development,audiologic testing and intervention are crucial in theworkup of any child with an ear anomaly. A signif-icant percentage of children (see Table 4) with earanomalies have some degree of hearing loss, andearly detection and referral to an ear, nose, andthroat specialist for management often are necessary.
Because the incidence of ear malformations is rel-atively rarealmost 1.3 per 10 000 live birthsit isdifficult for 1 center to conduct a prospective popu-lation study large enough to accumulate sufficientnumbers of children with ear anomalies to analyze.Our study was limited by review of only our clinic
patients with ear anomalies, which introduces selec-tion bias in that their ears (or other organ systems)had to be anomalous enough to have been referredfor a clinical genetics evaluation. Also, patients whohad not undergone renal ultrasonography were ex-cluded, which would affect our calculated incidenceof renal malformations; however, our numbers agreewith the figures given in review articles of largenumbers of children with these syndromes andthereby provide some guidelines for how to decidewhich children with ear anomalies might benefitfrom renal ultrasonography.
Ear and kidney development has been character-ized in great detail, and we now know that embry-ologically, ear and kidney primordia arise at differ-ent times and develop at different rates. Therefore,the association between ear and kidney anomaliesusually is not due to an isolated insult to the embryothat affects both developing structures at the sametime. Prolonged embryonic insults, such as thoseseen in IDMs, may cause defects not just in ears andkidneys but also in many other organ systems. This
Fig 7. Two sporadic cases of lethal diabetic em-bryopathy with dysplastic ears. Top, case hadvertebral defects and hypoplastic left heart. Bot-tom, case had rib and vertebral defects, Di-George sequence, single kidney, and pancreaticislet cell hyperplasia.
TABLE 3. Areas to Focus on in Initial Evaluation of a PatientWith an External Ear Anomaly
Birth history Gestational diabetes mellitus (anyclass), teratogenic exposures
Family history Ear anomalies, hearing lossCraniofacial Iris, lid, retinal colobomata;
downslanting palpebral fissures withmidface hypoplasia; preauricularpit(s); cup ears; hypoplasia ofsemicircular canals and cochlea;micrognathia
Neck Branchial cleft sinuses or cystsCardiac Murmurs suggesting congenital heart
defectsGastrointestinal Imperforate anus, rectovaginal fistula,
rectourethral fistulaLimbs Abnormal palmar creases, polydactyly,
missing 1st or 5th digits, bifurcated/triphalangeal thumbs, thenarhypoplasia
TABLE 4. Prevalence of Hearing Loss in Various MCA Syn-dromes and Ear Anomalies
Syndrome Percentage WithHearing Impairment
Isolated tag/pit 15301,2CHARGE association 8511TBS 4416OAVS 5038BOR 7522TCS 5539Nager syndrome 9531Miller syndrome 1935
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reflects the ongoing teratogenesis of toxic metabo-lites on all developing structures of the embryo. Re-cent identification of genes that are responsible forBOR and TBS, along with gene expression studies ofthese genes, has shown that these genes are ex-pressed in developing ear and kidney structures atdifferent times during morphogenesis.37 Temporallyand spatially asynchronous gene expression is prov-ing to be a recurring theme in embryogenesis. Oneexample is the nested expression of Hox genes thatprovide patterning for the medial-lateral axis of thelimbs, branchial arches, and somitomeres, all ofwhich arise at different times in development. PAX2expression, another regulatory gene in the same sig-naling pathway as EYA1, in optic placodes andnephrogenic tissues is yet another example of thistype of expression. The discovery of EYA1 andSALL1 offer insight into why BOR, TBS, and othersyndromes demonstrate ear, kidney, and other organmalformations.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThis study received support from SHAREs Childhood Disabil-
ity Center, the Steven Spielberg Pediatric Research Center, theCedars-Sinai Burns and Allen Research Institute, the Skeletal Dys-plasias NIH/NICHD Program Project Grant (HD22657), and theMedical Genetics NIH/NIGMS Training Program Grant(GM08243).
We thank Barbara Lawson for her support with this manu-script.
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