Cytomegalovirus-induced brain malformations in fetuses

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2014 Feb;73(2):143-58. doi: 10.1097/NEN.0000000000000038.


Neurologic morbidity associated with congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection is a major public health concern. The pathogenesis of cerebral lesions remains unclear. We report the neuropathologic substrates, the immune response, and the cellular targets of CMV in 16 infected human fetal brains aged 23 to 28.5 gestational weeks. Nine cases were microcephalic, 10 had extensive cortical lesions, 8 had hippocampal abnormalities, and 5 cases showed infection of the olfactory bulb. The density of CMV-immunolabeled cells correlated with the presence of microcephaly and the extent of brain abnormalities. Innate and adaptive immune responses were present but did not react against all CMV-infected cells. Cytomegalovirus infected all cell types but showed higher tropism for stem cells/radial glial cells. The results indicate that 2 main factors influence the neuropathologic outcome at this stage: the density of CMV-positive cells and the tropism of CMV for stem/progenitor cells. This suggests that the large spectrum of CMV-induced brain abnormalities is caused not only by tissue destruction but also by the particular vulnerability of stem cells during early brain development. Florid infection of the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb may expose these patients to the risk of neurocognitive and sensorineural handicap even in cases of infection at late stages of gestation.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / embryology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / virology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cytomegalovirus / pathogenicity*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / pathology*
  • Fetus
  • Gestational Age
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ki-67 Antigen / metabolism


  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Ki-67 Antigen