Congenital human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is the most common viral infection of the developing fetus, and a significant cause of neurodevelopmental abnormalities in infants and children. Congenital HCMV infections account for an estimated 25% of all cases of hearing loss in the US. It has long been argued that maternal adaptive immune responses to HCMV can modify both the likelihood of intrauterine transmission of HCMV, and the severity of fetal infection and risk of long term sequelae in infected infants. Over the last two decades, multiple studies have challenged this paradigm, including findings that have demonstrated that the vast majority of infants with congenital HCMV infections in most populations are born to women with established immunity prior to conception. Furthermore, the incidence of clinically apparent congenital HCMV infection in infants born to immune and non-immune pregnant women appears to be similar. These findings from natural history studies have important implications for the design, development, and testing of prophylactic vaccines and biologics for this perinatal infection. This brief overview will provide a discussion of existing data from human natural history studies and animal models of congenital HCMV infections that have described the role of maternal immunity in the natural history of this perinatal infection.
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