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Impact of perinatal COVID on fetal and neonatal brain and neurodevelopmental outcomes

After three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have learned many aspects of the disease and the virus: its molecular structure, how it infects human cells, the clinical picture at different ages, potential therapies, and the effectiveness of prophylaxis. Research is currently focused on the short- and long-term consequences of COVID-19. We review the available information on the neurodevelopmental outcome of infants born during the pandemic from infected and non-infected mothers, as well as the neurological impact of neonatal SARS-CoV-2 infection. We also discuss the mechanisms that could potentially affect the fetal or neonatal brain including direct impact after vertical transmission, maternal immune activation with a proinflammatory cytokine storm, and finally the consequences of complications of pregnancy secondary to maternal infection that could affect the fetus. Several follow-up studies have noted a variety of neurodevelopmental sequelae among infants born during the pandemic. There is controversy as to the exact etiopathogenesis of these neurodevelopmental effects: from the infection itself or as a result of parental emotional stress during that period. We summarize case reports of acute neonatal SARS-CoV-2 infections associated with neurological signs and neuroimaging changes. Many infants born during previous pandemics caused by other respiratory viruses demonstrated serious neurodevelopmental and psychological sequelae that were only recognized after several years of follow-up. It is essential to warn health authorities about the need for very long-term continuous follow up of infants born during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic for early detection and treatment that could help mitigate the neurodevelopmental consequences of perinatal COVID-19.

Open Access