The timing of neonatal brain damage

Biol Neonate. 2006;90(3):145-55. doi: 10.1159/000092517. Epub 2006 Mar 1.


Although neonatal morbidity and mortality are less than in the past, the risk of pre-natal and neonatal brain damage has not been eliminated. In order to optimize pre-natal, perinatal and neonatal care, it is necessary to detect factors responsible for brain damage and obtain information about their timing. Knowledge of the timing of asphyxia, infections and circulatory abnormalities would enable obstetricians and neonatologists to improve prevention in pre-term and full-term neonates. Cardiotocography has been criticized as being too indirect a sign of fetal condition and as having various technical pitfalls, though its reliability seems to be improved by association with pulse oximetry, fetal blood pH and electrocardiography. Neuroimaging is particularly useful to determine the timing of hypoxic-ischemic brain damage. Cranial ultrasound has been used to determine the type and evolution of brain damage. Magnetic resonance has also been used to detect antenatal, perinatal and neonatal abnormalities and timing on the basis of standardized assessment of brain maturation. Advances in the interpretation of neonatal electroencephalograms have also made this technique useful for determining the timing of brain lesions. Nucleated red blood cell count in cord blood has been recognized as an important indication of the timing of pre-natal hypoxia, and even abnormal lymphocyte and thrombocyte counts may be used to establish pre-natal asphyxia. Cord blood pH and base excess are well-known markers of fetal hypoxia, but are best combined with heart rate and blood pressure. Other markers of fetal and neonatal hypoxia useful for determining the timing of brain damage are assays of lactate and markers of oxidative stress in cord blood and neonatal blood. Cytokines in blood and amniotic fluid may indicate chorioamnionitis or post-natal infections. The determination of activin and protein S100 has also been proposed. Obstetricians and neonatologists can therefore now rely on various methods for monitoring the risk of brain damage in the antenatal and post-natal periods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activins / blood
  • Biomarkers
  • Cardiotocography
  • Cerebral Palsy / etiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry
  • Fetal Hypoxia / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia, Brain / diagnosis*
  • Hypoxia, Brain / etiology*
  • Hypoxia, Brain / prevention & control
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / etiology*
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / prevention & control
  • Inhibin-beta Subunits / blood
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Ultrasonography


  • Biomarkers
  • activin A
  • Activins
  • Inhibin-beta Subunits