Sonographic assessment of normal and abnormal patterns of fetal cerebral lamination

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Prenatal development of the brain is characterized by gestational age-specific changes in the laminar structure of the brain parenchyma before 30 gestational weeks. Cerebral lamination patterns of normal fetal brain development have been described histologically, by postmortem in-vitro magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and by in-vivo fetal MRI. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the sonographic appearance of laminar organization of the cerebral wall in normal and abnormal brain development.


This was a retrospective study of ultrasound findings in 92 normal fetuses and 68 fetuses with abnormal cerebral lamination patterns for gestational age, at 17–38 weeks' gestation. We investigated the visibility of the subplate zone relative to the intermediate zone and correlated characteristic sonographic findings of cerebral lamination with gestational age in order to evaluate transient structures.


In the normal cohort, the subplate zone–intermediate zone interface was identified as early as 17 weeks, and in all 57 fetuses examined up to 28 weeks. In all of these fetuses, the subplate zone appeared anechoic and the intermediate zone appeared homogeneously more echogenic than did the subplate zone. In the 22 fetuses between 28 and 34 weeks, there was a transition period when lamination disappeared in a variable fashion. The subplate zone–intermediate zone interface was not identified in any fetus after 34 weeks (n = 13). There were three patterns of abnormal cerebral lamination: (1) no normal laminar pattern before 28 weeks (n = 32), in association with severe ventriculomegaly, diffuse ischemia, microcephaly, teratogen exposure or lissencephaly; (2) focal disruption of lamination before 28 weeks (n = 24), associated with hemorrhage, porencephaly, stroke, migrational abnormalities, thanatophoric dysplasia, meningomyelocele or encephalocele; (3) increased prominence and echogenicity of the intermediate zone before 28 weeks and/or persistence of a laminar pattern beyond 33 weeks (n = 10), associated with Type 1 lissencephaly or CMV infection. There was a mixed focal/diffuse pattern in two fetuses. In CMV infection, the earliest indication of the infection was focal heterogeneity and increased echogenicity of the intermediate zone, which predated the development of microcephaly, ventriculomegaly and intracranial calcification.


The fetal subplate and intermediate zones can be demonstrated reliably on routine sonography before 28 weeks and disappear after 34 weeks. These findings represent normal gestational age-dependent transient laminar patterns of cerebral development and are consistent with histological studies. Abnormal fetal cerebral lamination patterns for gestational age are also visible on sonography, and may indicate abnormal brain development. Copyright © 2012 ISUOG. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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