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The human face represents a combined set of highly heritable phenotypes, but knowledge on its genetic architecture remains limited despite the relevance for various fields of science and application. A series of genome-wide association studies on 78 facial shape phenotypes quantified from 3-dimensional facial images of 10,115 Europeans identified 24 genetic loci reaching genome-wide significant association, among which 17 were previously unreported. A multi-ethnic study in additional 7,917 individuals confirmed 13 loci including 8 unreported ones. A global map of polygenic face scores assembled facial features in major continental groups consistent with anthropological knowledge. Analyses of epigenomic datasets from cranial neural crest cells revealed abundant cis-regulatory activities at the face-associated genetic loci. Luciferase reporter assays in neural crest progenitor cells highlighted enhancer activities of several face-associated DNA variants. These results substantially advance our understanding of the genetic basis underlying human facial variation and provide candidates for future in-vivo functional studies.

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