Congenital Brain Malformations

Congenital brain malformations are a group of brain defects or disorders that develop in the womb and are present at birth.

The fetal brain begins to develop shortly after conception and continues to grow throughout pregnancy. Billions of neurons, or nerve cells, undergo a critical development process in which they form brain regions. If anything interrupts this process, particularly during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, brain malformations can result. Brain malformations may also develop if the skull doesn't form properly.

While the cause is not always known, congenital brain malformations may result from inherited genetic defects, spontaneous mutations within the embryo's genes, or damage to the fetus caused by the mother's exposure to toxins, infection, trauma or drug use.

The symptoms and prognosis for congenital brain malformations vary, depending on their type and severity. Some brain malformations are diagnosed at birth, while others may go undetected until adolescence or adulthood.

Babies born with congenital brain malformations are cared for in our Neuro-Intensive Care Nursery or NICN, a component of the UCSF William H. Tooley Intensive Care Nursery. The NICN provides specialized, high-level care for babies at risk for neurological injury. We are also at the forefront of research studying brain malformations in newborns, particularly premature babies.