Send to

Choose Destination
Int J Hyperthermia. 2003 May-Jun;19(3):295-324.

Effects of heat on embryos and foetuses.

Author information

The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.



This paper reviews the effects of elevated maternal temperature on embryo and foetal development in experimental animals and in humans.


Hyperthermia during pregnancy can cause embryonic death, abortion, growth retardation and developmental defects. Processes critical to embryonic development, such as cell proliferation, migration, differentiation and programmed cell death (apoptosis) are adversely affected by elevated maternal temperatures, showing some similarity to the effects of ionizing radiation. The development of the central nervous system is especially susceptible: a 2.5 degrees C elevation for 1 h during early neural tube closure in rats resulted in an increased incidence of cranio-facial defects, and a 'spike' temperature elevation of 2-2.5 degrees C in an exposure of 1 h during early neurogenesis in guinea pigs caused an increase in the incidence of microencephaly. However, in general, thresholds and dose-response relationships vary between species and even between different strains of the same species, depending on genotype. This precludes rigorous quantitative extrapolation to humans, although some general principles can be inferred. In humans, epidemiological studies suggest that an elevation of maternal body temperature by 2 degrees C for at least 24 h during fever can cause a range of developmental defects, but there is little information on thresholds for shorter exposures. Further experimental and epidemiological studies are recommended, focusing on stage-specific developmental effects in the central nervous system using a variety of sensitive assays.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Taylor & Francis
Loading ...
Support Center