Several environmental factors, including viral infections during fetal development, are known to increase the risk of schizophrenia. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is the main cause of viral congenital infection. Since changes in temporal lobe structures are a consistent finding in imaging studies of adult schizophrenics, we investigated possible derangement in temporal lobe development in CMV infected fetuses. Abdominal MRI (1.5 T) was performed using a single-shot fast spin echo T2-weighted sequence. MRI volumetry was employed to measure brain and temporal lobe size in 27 CMV infected fetuses and 52 gestational age matched controls in utero. The ratio of temporal lobe to whole brain was computed for each fetus and group comparisons were performed using Student's t-test or ANOVA. Temporal lobe volumes, normalized to whole brain and co-varied with gestational age; were significantly smaller in fetuses infected with CMV compared to uninfected fetuses. (Infected group mean ± SEM: 0.086 ± 0.006, controls: 0.113 ± 0.003, p<0.0001). Infection during the 1st and 2nd trimester had a more pronounced effect than infection during the 3rd trimester. Infected fetuses with no MRI findings had significantly lower temporal lobe/whole brain ratios than controls (0.092 ± 0.008, p<0.01, N=11) and the lowest ratios were observed in fetuses with overt findings such as cysts or gray matter heterotopy (0.067 ± 0.015). These results demonstrate the ability of quantitative fetal brain MRI to detect previously unreported, specific deficits in brain development in CMV infected fetuses, which, in conjunction with other genetic and environmental factors, may contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia later in life.
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