BACKGROUND: Knobloch syndrome is a rare, autosomal recessive, developmental disorder characterized by stereotyped ocular abnormalities with or without occipital skull deformities (encephalocele, bone defects, and cutis aplasia). Although there is clear heterogeneity in clinical presentation, central nervous system malformations, aside from the characteristic encephalocele, have not typically been considered a component of the disease phenotype. METHODS: Four patients originally presented for genetic evaluation of symptomatic structural brain malformations. Whole-genome genotyping, whole-exome sequencing, and confirmatory Sanger sequencing were performed. Using immunohistochemical analysis, we investigated the protein expression pattern of COL18A1 in the mid-fetal and adult human cerebral cortex and then analyzed the spatial and temporal changes in the expression pattern of COL18A1 during human cortical development using the Human Brain Transcriptome database. RESULTS: We identified two novel homozygous deleterious frame-shift mutations in the COL18A1 gene. On further investigation of these patients and their families, we found that many exhibited certain characteristics of Knobloch syndrome, including pronounced ocular defects. Our data strongly support an important role for COL18A1 in brain development, and this report contributes to an enhanced characterization of the brain malformations that can result from deficiencies of collagen XVIII. CONCLUSIONS: This case series highlights the diagnostic power and clinical utility of whole-exome sequencing technology allowing clinicians and physician scientists to better understand the pathophysiology and presentations of rare diseases. We suggest that patients who are clinically diagnosed with Knobloch syndrome and/or found to have COL18A1. mutations via genetic screening should be investigated for potential structural brain abnormalities even in the absence of an encephalocele.