The genetics of vascular birthmarks

Clin Dermatol. 2022 Jul-Aug;40(4):313-321. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2022.02.006. Epub 2022 Feb 16.


One in 10 infants are born with a vascular birthmark each year. Some vascular birthmarks, such as infantile hemangiomas, are common, while vascular malformations, such as capillary, lymphatic, venous, and arteriovenous malformations, are less so. Diagnosing uncommon vascular birthmarks can be challenging, given the phenotypic heterogeneity and overlap among these lesions. Both sporadic and germline variants have been detected in various genes associated with vascular birthmarks. Identification of these genetic variants offers insight into both diagnosis and underlying molecular pathways and can be fundamental in the discovery of novel therapeutic approaches. The PIK3/AKT/mTOR and RAS/MEK/ERK signaling pathways, which mediate cell growth and angiogenesis, are activated secondary to genetic variations in vascular malformations. Somatic variants in TEK (TIE2) and PIK3CA cause venous malformations. Variants in PIK3CA also cause lymphatic malformations as well as a number of overgrowth syndromes associated with vascular anomalies. Variants in GNAQ and GNA11 have been identified in both so-called "congenital" hemangiomas and capillary malformations. RASA1 and EPHB4 variants are associated with capillary malformation-arteriovenous malformation syndrome. This review discusses the genetics of vascular birthmarks, including the various phenotypes, genetic variants, pathogenesis, associated syndromes, and new diagnostic techniques.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capillaries / abnormalities
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / genetics
  • Hemangioma* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / genetics
  • Mutation
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / genetics
  • Syndrome
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Vascular Malformations* / diagnosis
  • Vascular Malformations* / genetics
  • Vascular Malformations* / pathology
  • p120 GTPase Activating Protein / genetics


  • RASA1 protein, human
  • p120 GTPase Activating Protein
  • Class I Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases

Supplementary concepts

  • Capillary Malformations, Congenital, 1