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Skull bone mineral density (SK-BMD) provides a suitable trait for the discovery of genes important to bone biology in general, and particularly for identifying components unique to intramembranous ossification, which cannot be captured at other skeletal sites. We assessed genetic determinants of SK-BMD in 43,800 individuals, identifying 59 genome-wide significant loci (4 novel), explaining 12.5% of its variance. Pathway and enrichment analyses of the association signals resulted in clustering within gene-sets involved in regulating the development of the skeleton; overexpressed in the musculoskeletal system; and enriched in enhancer and transcribed regions in osteoblasts. From the four novel loci (mapping to ZIC1, PRKAR1A, ATP6V1C1, GLRX3), two (ZIC1 and PRKAR1A) have previously been related to craniofacial developmental defects. Functional validation of skull development in zebrafish revealed abnormal cranial bone initiation that culminated in ectopic sutures and reduced BMD in mutated zic1 and atp6v1c1 fish and asymmetric bone growth and elevated BMD in mutated prkar1a fish. We confirmed a role of ZIC1 loss-of-function in suture patterning and discovered ATP6V1C1 gene associated with suture development. In light of the evidence presented suggesting that SK-BMD is genetically related to craniofacial abnormalities, our study opens new avenues to the understanding of the pathophysiology of craniofacial defects and towards the effective pharmacological treatment of bone diseases.

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