Viral infections in pregnancy and impact on offspring neurodevelopment: mechanisms and lessons learned

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Pediatric research




Pregnant individuals with viral illness may experience significant morbidity and have higher rates of pregnancy and neonatal complications. With the growing number of viral infections and new viral pandemics, it is important to examine the effects of infection during pregnancy on both the gestational parent and the offspring. Febrile illness and inflammation during pregnancy are correlated with risk for autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and developmental delay in the offspring in human and animal models. Historical viral epidemics had limited follow-up of the offspring of affected pregnancies. Infants exposed to seasonal influenza and the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus experienced increased risks of congenital malformations and neuropsychiatric conditions. Zika virus exposure in utero can lead to a spectrum of abnormalities, ranging from severe microcephaly to neurodevelopmental delays which may appear later in childhood and in the absence of Zika-related birth defects. Vertical infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 has occurred rarely, but there appears to be a risk for developmental delays in the infants with antenatal exposure. Determining how illness from infection during pregnancy and specific viral pathogens can affect pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes of offspring can better prepare the community to care for these children as they grow. IMPACT: Viral infections have impacted pregnant people and their offspring throughout history. Antenatal exposure to maternal fever and inflammation may increase risk of developmental and neurobehavioral disorders in infants and children. The recent SARS-CoV-2 pandemic stresses the importance of longitudinal studies to follow pregnancies and offspring neurodevelopment.