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Inherited Disorders and Birth Defects

Why am I the only one with webbed toes?



My parents do not have webbed toes. I have webbed toes and so does my daughter. It seems that none of my cousins or aunts and uncles have webbed toes. How did I inherit web toes?


Syndactyly or webbing of the fingers and/or toes is a very common finding which can be a normal variation or minor anomaly. Syndactyly can be sporadic - that is, it happened just in one child in a family, is not inherited from either parent and geneticists do not know why it happened. It can also run in families – where a parent has a gene that codes for syndactyly and can pass that gene on to any of his or her children. Finally, syndactyly can also be seen in many genetic disorders, but these children have multiple problems, not just syndactyly.

In your case, it sounds like your family has a gene that codes for syndactyly and is probably inherited in what is called autosomal dominant inheritance. For all of our genes – there are 2 copies of each. Autosomal dominant inheritance describes a trait or disorder in someone who has a gene mutation (or change) in one of the two copies for that specific gene. That gene mutation specifically refers to a gene on one of the 22 pairs of autosomes (non-sex chromosomes).

Anyone with an autosomal dominant inherited trait or disorder has a 50-50 chance of passing that gene on to any child that person has. Autosomal dominant traits can be seen in both males and females equally. Usually, when someone has this gene mutation for a trait, such as syndactyly, you see it in multiple generations.

In your case, you most likely have the gene for syndactyly and passed it on to your daughter. Because neither one of your parents or anyone else in the family has syndactyly, the change in the gene that codes for this may have happened for the first time in you (called a new mutation). If you have any more children, you have a 50-50 chance of passing this gene on to any of your future children. Also, since your daughter seems to have inherited her syndactyly from you, she will have a 50-50 chance of passing the gene on to any of her children.

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Response by:

Anne   Matthews, RN, PhD Anne Matthews, RN, PhD
Associate Professor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University