Delayed cortical development in fetuses with complex congenital heart disease

Cereb Cortex. 2013 Dec;23(12):2932-43. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs281. Epub 2012 Sep 12.


Neurologic impairment is a major complication of complex congenital heart disease (CHD). A growing body of evidence suggests that neurologic dysfunction may be present in a significant proportion of this high-risk population in the early newborn period prior to surgical interventions. We recently provided the first evidence that brain growth impairment in fetuses with complex CHD has its origins in utero. Here, we extend these observations by characterizing global and regional brain development in fetuses with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), one of the most severe forms of CHD. Using advanced magnetic resonance imaging techniques, we compared in vivo brain growth in 18 fetuses with HLHS and 30 control fetuses from 25.4-37.0 weeks of gestation. Our findings demonstrate a progressive third trimester fall-off in cortical gray and white matter volumes (P < 0.001), and subcortical gray matter (P < 0.05) in fetuses with HLHS. Significant delays in cortical gyrification were also evident in HLHS fetuses (P < 0.001). In the HLHS fetus, local cortical folding delays were detected as early as 25 weeks in the frontal, parietal, calcarine, temporal, and collateral regions and appear to precede volumetric brain growth disturbances, which may be an early marker of elevated risk for third trimester brain growth failure.

Keywords: brain development; congenital heart disease; cortical surface; fetal; magnetic resonance imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / abnormalities*
  • Female
  • Fetus / abnormalities*
  • Humans
  • Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pregnancy