Holoprosencephaly: a survey of the entity, with embryology and fetal imaging

Radiographics. 2015 Jan-Feb;35(1):275-90. doi: 10.1148/rg.351140040.


Structural malformations of the brain are an important cause of childhood mortality and morbidity, with the latter having long-term financial and psychosocial implications for the affected child and family. Holoprosencephaly (HPE) is a severe brain malformation characterized by abnormal cleavage of the prosencephalon in the 5th gestational week. Aprosencephaly and atelencephaly occur earlier because of failure in the formation of the prosencephalon and telencephalon, respectively. The HPE holoprosencephaly spectrum classically includes alobar, semilobar, and lobar forms, although there are no clear-cut defining features. The middle interhemispheric variant (MIH), also known as syntelencephaly, is classified as a variant of HPE holoprosencephaly with midline interhemispheric fusion. Other conditions sometimes included in the spectrum of HPE holoprosencephaly include septo-optic dysplasia (SOD); "minimal" HPE holoprosencephaly , which is associated with subtle craniofacial malformations and mild developmental delay; and microform HPE holoprosencephaly , which by definition excludes brain involvement. The focus of this article will be on the spectrum of findings visible in fetal manifestation of the HPE holoprosencephaly spectrum. Brain embryology; the imaging characteristics, epidemiology, and embryology of HPE; and the more common associated anomalies, particularly those of the face ("the face predicts the brain") are reviewed. Recognition of these anomalies is important for accurate parental counseling, since the prognosis is poor but not invariably lethal; children with the milder forms may live well into their teens with severe developmental delays, endocrine dysfunction, and disrupted homeostasis. Available data on outcome in surviving children are summarized. Illustrative fetal ultrasonographic and magnetic resonance images are presented with clinical, autopsy, and postnatal imaging correlation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Holoprosencephaly / diagnosis*
  • Holoprosencephaly / epidemiology
  • Holoprosencephaly / etiology
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods*
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors