Congenital hypotonia: systematic approach for prenatal detection

T. Weissbach*, M. Hausman-Kedem, Z. Yanay, R. Meyer, O. Bar-Yosef, L. Leibovitch, M. Berkenstadt, O. Chorin, H. Shani, A. Massarwa, R. Achiron, B. Weisz, R. Sharon, S. Mazaki-Tovi, E. Kassif

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Congenital hypotonic conditions are rare and heterogeneous, and some are severely debilitating or lethal. Contrary to its prominent postnatal manifestation, the prenatal presentation of hypotonia is frequently subtle, inhibiting prenatal detection. We aimed to characterize the prenatal sonographic manifestation of congenital hypotonia throughout pregnancy, evaluate the yield of diagnostic tests and propose diagnostic models to increase its prenatal detection. Methods: This was a retrospective observational study of singleton pregnancies with congenital hypotonia, diagnosed either prenatally or immediately after birth, at a single tertiary center between the years 2012 and 2020. Prenatally, hypotonia was diagnosed if a fetus showed sonographic or clinical signs suggestive of hypotonia and had a confirmed underlying genetic condition, or in the absence of a known genetic abnormality if the fetus exhibited multiple prominent signs suggestive of hypotonia. Postnatally, it was diagnosed in neonates displaying reduced muscle tone leading to reduced spontaneous movement, reduced swallowing or feeding difficulty. We reviewed the medical records of pregnant patients carrying fetuses subsequently diagnosed with congenital hypotonia and assessed the yield of ultrasound scans, fetal magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography and genetic tests. The detection rate of sonographic signs suggesting fetal hypotonia was calculated. The prevalence of non-specific signs, including polyhydramnios, persistent breech presentation, intrauterine growth restriction and maternal perception of reduced fetal movement, were compared between the study group and the local liveborn singleton population. Potential detection rates of different theoretical semiotic diagnostic models, differing in the threshold for referral for a targeted scan, were assessed based on the cohort's data. Results: The study group comprised 26 cases of congenital hypotonia, of which 10 (38.5%) were diagnosed prenatally, and the controls included 95 105 singleton live births, giving a prevalence of congenital hypotonia of 1:3658. Nuchal translucency thickness and the early anomaly scan at 13–17 weeks were normal in all 22 and 23 cases, respectively, in which this was performed. The mid-trimester scan performed at 19–25 weeks was abnormal in four of 24 (16.7%) cases. The overall prenatal detection rate of congenital hypotonic conditions in our cohort was 38.5%. Only cases which underwent a targeted scan were detected and, among the 16 cases which underwent this scan, the prenatal detection rate was 62.5% compared with 0% in pregnancies that did not undergo this scan (P = 0.003). An abnormal genetic diagnosis was obtained in 21 (80.8%) cases using the following modalities: chromosomal microarray analysis (CMA) in two (9.5%), whole-exome sequencing (WES) in 14 (66.7%) and methylation analysis in five (23.8%). CMA was abnormal in 8% (2/25) of the cases and WES detected a causative genetic mutation in 87.5% (14/16) of the cases in which these were performed. Comparison of non-specific signs in the study group with those in the local singleton population showed that hypotonic fetuses had significantly more polyhydramnios (64.0% vs 3.0%, P < 0.0001), persistent breech presentation (58.3% vs 4.2%, P < 0.0001), intrauterine growth restriction (30.8% vs 3.0%, P < 0.0001) and maternal perception of reduced fetal movement (32.0% vs 4.7%, P < 0.0001). Prenatally, the most commonly detected signs supporting a diagnosis of hypotonia were structural anomaly (62.5%, 10/16), reduced fetal movement (46.7%, 7/15), joint contractures (46.7%, 7/15) and undescended testes ≥ 30 weeks (42.9%, 3/7 males). Proposed diagnostic strategies that involved performing a targeted scan for a single non-specific ultrasound sign or two such signs, and then carrying out a comprehensive genetic evaluation for any additional sign, offered theoretical detection rates in our cohort of 88.5% and 57.7%, respectively. Conclusions: Congenital hypotonic conditions are rare and infrequently detected prenatally. Sonographic signs are visible from the late second trimester. A targeted scan increases prenatal detection significantly. Comprehensive genetic testing, especially WES, is the cornerstone of diagnosis in congenital hypotonia. Theoretical diagnostic models which may increase prenatal detection are provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-105
Number of pages12
JournalUltrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • congenital hypotonia
  • fetal motility
  • neuromuscular disease
  • polyhydramnios
  • reduced fetal movement


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