Fractional Limb Volume in Spina Bifida Fetuses as an Assessment Tool for Postnatal Ambulation

Fetal Diagn Ther. 2020;47(7):529-535. doi: 10.1159/000504360. Epub 2019 Dec 5.


Background: Prenatal fractional limb volume (FLV) can be used to assess muscle atrophy in fetuses with myelomeningocele.

Objective: We hypothesize that FLV in fetal myelomeningocele (fMMC) repair is different from postnatal repair (PNR). Assessing intrauterine muscle development can predict ambulation.

Methods: A prospective observational study was performed from July 2012 to April 2016. Demographics, clinical outcomes, and FLV of the fetal thigh were assessed by ultrasound. Ambulation videos were collected from patients over 30 months of age. FLV was compared between the fMMC and PNR groups and between ambulators and non-ambulators. Two-sample t test, ANOVA, Spearman's rho correlation, and Bland-Altman plots were used for analysis. A p value <0.05 was used for statistical significance.

Results: Fifty-nine patients were included, 24 had fMMC and 35 had PNR. Videos were obtained in 47 cases (73%). There was no difference in baseline demographics between the groups. There was no significant change in the fMMC group between the FLV at initial presentation and the repeat at 34 weeks gestation (54.5 ± 28.2 and 62.2% ± 16.4; p = 0.6). In contrast, the FLV in the PNR decreased between the initial evaluation and the repeat at 34 weeks (54.1 ± 27.7 to 35.8 ± 34.1%; p = 0.04). FLV at 34 weeks gestation was higher in the fMMC group as compared to the PNR group (62.2 ± 16.4 vs. 35.8 ± 34.1%; p = 0.02). There was no difference in FLV between ambulators and non-ambulators either at initial evaluation (p = 0.8) or at 34 weeks gestation (p = 0.6).

Conclusion: Lower FLV in the PNR group compared to fMMC may suggest in utero muscle atrophy. No correlation was seen between FLV and subsequent ambulation; however, future larger studies may be needed.

Keywords: Ambulation; Fetal tissue mass biometry; Fractional limb volume; Motor function; Myelomeningocele; Prenatal repair.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology
  • Fetus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lower Extremity / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Spinal Dysraphism / complications
  • Spinal Dysraphism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods
  • Walking / physiology*
  • Young Adult