Scientific Article|Articles in Press

Do Nails and Nubbins Matter? A Comparison of Symbrachydactyly and Transverse Deficiency Phenotypes

Published:March 16, 2023DOI:


      Transverse deficiency (TD) and symbrachydactyly may be difficult to distinguish due to shared phenotypes and a lack of pathognomonic features. The 2020 Oberg-Manske-Tonkin classification update modified these anomalies to include “with ectodermal elements” for symbrachydactyly and “without ectodermal elements” for TD as a defining differentiating characteristic. The purpose of this investigation was to characterize ectodermal elements and the level of deficiency and to examine whether ectodermal elements versus the level of deficiency was a greater determining factor for Congenital Upper Limb Differences (CoULD) surgeons making the diagnosis.


      This was a retrospective review of 254 extremities from the CoULD registry with a diagnosis of symbrachydactyly or TD by pediatric hand surgeons. Ectodermal elements and the level of deficiency were characterized. A review of the registry radiographs and photographs was used to classify the diagnosis and compare it with the diagnosis given by the pediatric hand surgeons. The presence/absence of nubbins versus the level of deficiency as the determining factor to differentiate the pediatric hand surgeons’ diagnosis of symbrachydactyly (with nubbins) versus TD (without nubbins) was analyzed.


      Based on radiographs and photographs of the 254 extremities, 66% had nubbins on the distal end of the limb; of the limbs with nubbins, nails were present on 51%. The level of deficiency was amelia/humeral (n = 9), <1/3 transverse forearm (n = 23), 1/3 to 2/3 transverse forearm (n = 27), 2/3 to full forearm TD (n = 38), and metacarpal/phalangeal (n = 103). The presence of nubbins was associated with a four times higher likelihood of a pediatric hand surgeon’s diagnosis of symbrachydactyly. However, a distal deficiency is associated with a 20-times higher likelihood of a diagnosis of symbrachydactyly than a proximal deficiency.


      Although both the level of deficiency and ectodermal elements are important, the level of deficiency was a greater determining factor for a diagnosis of symbrachydactyly versus TD. Our results suggest that the level of deficiency and nubbins should both be described to help provide greater clarity in the diagnosis of symbrachydactyly versus TD.

      Type of study/level of evidence

      Diagnostic IV.

      Key words

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