Nervous System Malformations

Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2018 Feb;24(1, Child Neurology):72-95. doi: 10.1212/CON.0000000000000561.


Purpose of review: This article provides an overview of the most common nervous system malformations and serves as a reference for the latest advances in diagnosis and treatment.

Recent findings: Major advances have occurred in recognizing the genetic basis of nervous system malformations. Environmental causes of nervous system malformations, such as perinatal infections including Zika virus, are also reviewed. Treatment for nervous system malformations begins prior to birth with prevention. Folic acid supplementation reduces the risk of neural tube defects and is an important part of health maintenance for pregnant women. Fetal surgery is now available for prenatal repair of myelomeningocele and has been demonstrated to improve outcomes.

Summary: Each type of nervous system malformation is relatively uncommon, but, collectively, they constitute a large population of neurologic patients. The diagnosis of nervous system malformations begins with radiographic characterization. Genetic studies, including chromosomal microarray, targeted gene sequencing, and next-generation sequencing, are increasingly important aspects of the assessment. A genetic diagnosis may identify an associated medical condition and is necessary for family planning. Treatment consists primarily of supportive therapies for developmental delays and epilepsy, but prenatal surgery for myelomeningocele offers a glimpse of future possibilities. Prognosis depends on multiple clinical factors, including the examination findings, imaging characteristics, and genetic results. Treatment is best conducted in a multidisciplinary setting with neurology, neurosurgery, developmental pediatrics, and genetics working together as a comprehensive team.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Central Nervous System / embryology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Nervous System Malformations* / diagnosis
  • Nervous System Malformations* / therapy
  • Neurogenesis / physiology
  • Pregnancy