Congenital infectious encephalopathies from the intrapartum period to postnatal life

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Seminars in fetal & neonatal medicine




Congenital infections are a common but often underrecognized cause of fetal brain abnormalities, as well as fetal-neonatal morbidity and mortality, that should be considered by all healthcare professionals providing neurological care to fetuses and newborns. Maternal infection with various pathogens (cytomegalovirus, Toxoplasmosis, Rubella virus, Parvovirus B19, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, syphilis, Zika virus, varicella zoster virus) during pregnancy can be transmitted to the developing fetus, which can cause multisystem dysfunction and destructive or malformative central nervous system lesions. These can be recognized on fetal and neonatal imaging, including ultrasound and MRI. Imaging and clinical features often overlap, but some distinguishing features can help identify specific pathogens and guide subsequent testing strategies. Some pathogens can be specifically treated, and others can be managed with targeted interventions or symptomatic therapy based on expected complications. Neurological and neurodevelopmental complications related to congenital infections vary widely and are likely driven by a combination of pathophysiologic factors, alone or in combination. These include direct invasion of the fetal central nervous system by pathogens, inflammation of the maternal-placental-fetal triad in response to infection, and long-term effects of immunogenic and epigenetic changes in the fetus in response to maternal-fetal infection. Congenital infections and their neurodevelopmental impacts should be seen as an issue of public health policy, given that infection and the associated complications disproportionately affect woman and children from low- and middle-income countries and those with lower socio-economic status in high-income countries. Congenital infections may be preventable and treatable, which can improve long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes in children.