Clinical assessment and brain findings in a cohort of mothers, fetuses and infants infected with ZIKA virus

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018 Apr;218(4):440.e1-440.e36. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2018.01.012. Epub 2018 Jan 17.


Background: Congenital Zika virus (ZIKV) infection can be detected in both the presence and absence of microcephaly and manifests as a number of signs and symptoms that are detected clinically and by neuroimaging. However, to date, qualitative and quantitative measures for the purpose of diagnosis and prognosis are limited.

Objectives: Main objectives of this study conducted on fetuses and infants with confirmed congenital Zika virus infection and detected brain abnormalities were (1) to assess the prevalence of microcephaly and the frequency of the anomalies that include a detailed description based on ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging in fetuses and ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, and computed tomography imaging postnatally, (2) to provide quantitative measures of fetal and infant brain findings by magnetic resonance imaging with the use of volumetric analyses and diffusion-weighted imaging, and (3) to obtain additional information from placental and fetal histopathologic assessments and postnatal clinical evaluations.

Study design: This is a longitudinal cohort study of Zika virus-infected pregnancies from a single institution in Colombia. Clinical and imaging findings of patients with laboratory-confirmed Zika virus infection and fetal brain anomalies were the focus of this study. Patients underwent monthly fetal ultrasound scans, neurosonography, and a fetal magnetic resonance imaging. Postnatally, infant brain assessment was offered by the use of ultrasound imaging, magnetic resonance imaging, and/or computed tomography. Fetal head circumference measurements were compared with different reference ranges with <2 or <3 standard deviations below the mean for the diagnosis of microcephaly. Fetal and infant magnetic resonance imaging images were processed to obtain a quantitative brain volumetric assessment. Diffusion weighted imaging sequences were processed to assess brain microstructure. Anthropometric, neurologic, auditory, and visual assessments were performed postnatally. Histopathologic assessment was included if patients opted for pregnancy termination.

Results: All women (n=214) had been referred for Zika virus symptoms during pregnancy that affected themselves or their partners or if fetal anomalies that are compatible with congenital Zika virus syndrome were detected. A total of 12 pregnant patients with laboratory confirmation of Zika virus infection were diagnosed with fetal brain malformations. Most common findings that were assessed by prenatal and postnatal imaging were brain volume loss (92%), calcifications (92%), callosal anomalies (100%), cortical malformations (89%), and ventriculomegaly (92%). Results from fetal brain volumetric assessment by magnetic resonance imaging showed that 1 of the most common findings associated with microcephaly was reduced supratentorial brain parenchyma and increased subarachnoid cerebrospinal fluid. Diffusion weighted imaging analyses of apparent diffusion coefficient values showed microstructural changes. Microcephaly was present in 33.3-58.3% of the cases at referral and was present at delivery in 55.6-77.8% of cases. At birth, most of the affected neonates (55.6-77.8%) had head circumference measurements >3 standard deviations below the mean. Postnatal imaging studies confirmed brain malformations that were detected prenatally. Auditory screening results were normal in 2 cases that were assessed. Visual screening showed different anomalies in 2 of the 3 cases that were examined. Pathologic results that were obtained from 2 of the 3 cases who opted for termination showed similar signs of abnormalities in the central nervous system and placental analyses, including brain microcalcifications.

Conclusion: Congenital microcephaly is not an optimal screening method for congenital Zika virus syndrome, because it may not accompany other evident and preceding brain findings; microcephaly could be an endpoint of the disease that results from progressive changes that are related to brain volume loss. Long-term studies are needed to understand the clinical and developmental relevance of these findings.

Keywords: Zika virus; calcification; congenital infection; fetal brain MRI; microcephaly; neurodevelopment; neuroimaging; pregnancy; ventriculomegaly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / abnormalities*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Calcinosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / physiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colombia / epidemiology
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocephalus / diagnostic imaging
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Microcephaly / virology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / epidemiology*
  • Subarachnoid Space / physiology
  • Young Adult
  • Zika Virus Infection / congenital
  • Zika Virus Infection / epidemiology*