An episode of hyperthermia is not uncommon during pregnancy. The consequences depend on the extent of temperature elevation, its duration, and the stage of development when it occurs. Mild exposures during the preimplantation period and more severe exposures during embryonic and fetal development often result in prenatal death and abortion. Hyperthermia also causes a wide range of structural and functional defects. The central nervous system (CNS) is most at risk probably because it cannot compensate for the loss of prospective neurons by additional divisions by the surviving neuroblasts and it remains at risk at stages throughout pre- and postnatal life. In experimental animals the most common defects are of the neural tube, microphthalmia, cataract, and micrencephaly, with associated functional and behavioral problems. Defects of craniofacial development including clefts, the axial and appendicular skeleton, the body wall, teeth, and heart are also commonly found. Nearly all these defects have been found in human epidemiological studies following maternal fever or hyperthermia during pregnancy. Suggested future human studies include problems of CNS function after exposure to influenza and fever, including mental retardation, schizophrenia, autism, and cerebral palsy. Birth Defects Research (Part A) 76:507–516, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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