Zika Virus Infection in Pregnancy, Microcephaly, and Maternal and Fetal Health: What We Think, What We Know, and What We Think We Know

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2017 Jan;141(1):26-32. doi: 10.5858/arpa.2016-0382-RA. Epub 2016 Sep 16.


Context: -The global epidemic of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection has emerged as an important public health problem affecting pregnant women and their infants.

Objectives: -To review the causal association between ZIKV infection during pregnancy and intrauterine fetal infection, microcephaly, brain damage, congenital malformation syndrome, and experimental laboratory models of fetal infection. Many questions remain regarding the risk factors, pathophysiology, epidemiology, and timing of maternal-fetal transmission and disease. These include mechanisms of fetal brain damage and microcephaly; the role of covariables, such as viral burden, duration of viremia, and host genetics, on vertical transmission; and the clinical and pathologic spectrum of congenital Zika syndrome. Additional questions include defining the potential long-term physical and neurobehavioral outcomes for infected infants, whether maternal or fetal host genetics influence the clinical outcome, and whether ZIKV infection can cause maternal morbidity. Finally, are experimental laboratory and animal models of ZIKV infection helpful in addressing maternal-fetal viral transmission and the development of congenital microcephaly? This communication provides current information and attempts to address some of these important questions.

Data sources: -Comprehensive review of published scientific literature.

Conclusions: -Recent advances in epidemiology, clinical medicine, pathology, and experimental studies have provided a great amount of new information regarding vertical ZIKV transmission and the mechanisms of congenital microcephaly, brain damage, and congenital Zika syndrome in a relatively short time. However, much work still needs to be performed to more completely understand the maternal and fetal aspects of this new and emerging viral disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / pathology*
  • Fetal Diseases / virology
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Microcephaly / embryology
  • Microcephaly / pathology*
  • Microcephaly / virology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / pathology*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / virology
  • Zika Virus / isolation & purification*
  • Zika Virus / physiology
  • Zika Virus Infection / pathology*
  • Zika Virus Infection / transmission
  • Zika Virus Infection / virology