Microcephaly: general considerations and aids to nosology

J Craniofac Genet Dev Biol. 1990;10(2):175-204.


Microcephaly is defined as an occipito-frontal head circumference (OFC) 2 or more standard deviations below the mean for age and sex using the new Roche et al. [Pediatrics 1987;79:706-712] charts, and corrected for parental OFC by the method of Weaver and Christian [J Pediatr 1980;96:990-994]. "Relative" microcephaly, i.e., a small head on a small child, may be associated with a much better intellectual prognosis than absolute microcephaly, although the average IQ of children with absolute microcephaly ascertained in a normal school system is normal when compared with that of appropriate control children. "Primary" microcephaly means an abnormal OFC at birth (corrected for gestational age and length), and "secondary" microcephaly a normal birth OFC with later, acquired microcephaly due to deceleration of brain growth reflecting infection, trauma, intoxication, metabolic disease, the Rett syndrome, or a true CNS degenerative disease. Some cases of syndromal microcephaly may be associated with normal intelligence including some "primordial dwarfs," children with Dubowitz syndrome, FAS, mild SC-Roberts syndrome, and an occasional Brachmann-de Lange individual. The nosology of (syndromal) microcephaly is extraordinarily complex and requires the assistance of special library resources and information retrieval expertise. At a minimum, it requires McKusick's Catalog of Mendelian Inheritance in Man (MIM); however, we find that our work is greatly enhanced by recently developed electronic databases such as MIM-online (OMIM), POSSUM, SYNDROME, and MEDLINE, as well. Three groups of syndromal and non-syndromal microcephaly are discussed selectively in order to illustrate the marvels of pleiotropy in human development and its abnormalities and the difficulties encountered in splitting and lumping entities with overlapping manifestations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Multiple
  • Chromosome Aberrations
  • Chromosome Disorders
  • Humans
  • Microcephaly / classification*
  • Microcephaly / etiology
  • Microcephaly / genetics
  • Syndrome
  • X Chromosome