Background: Holoprosencephaly (HPE) is one of the most common developmental disorders of the brain associated with specific craniofacial dysmorphogenesis. Although numerous postnatal cases have been reported, early phases of its pathogenesis are not well understood. We examined over 200 cases of HPE human embryos both grossly and histologically, and studied their phenotypic variability and stage-specific characteristics.
Methods: Among over 44,000 human embryos in the Kyoto Collection of Human Embryos, 221 embryos have been diagnosed as HPE. Their developmental stages ranged from Carnegie stage (CS) 13 to CS 23. They were examined grossly and were also serially sectioned for detailed histological analysis.
Results: HPE embryos after CS 18 were classified into complete (true) cyclopia, synophthalmia (partially fused eyes in a single eye fissure), closely apposed separate eyes (possible forerunners of ethmocephaly and cebocephaly), and milder HPE with median cleft lip (premaxillary agenesis). At CS 13-17, when facial morphogenesis is not completed, HPE embryos had some facial characteristics that are specific to these stages and different from those in older HPE embryos. The midline structures of the brain, including the pituitary gland, were lacking or seriously hypoplastic in HPE embryos. Complete cyclopia was found in two cases after CS 18 but none at earlier stages.
Conclusions: The early development of HPE in human embryos was systematically studied for the first time. The pathogenesis of craniofacial abnormalities, especially eye anomalies, in HPE was discussed in the light of recent studies with mutant laboratory animals.