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November 1993

Prenatal Diagnosis of Genetic Skin Disease Using Fetal Skin Biopsy Samples

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Biological Structure and Medicine (Dermatology), University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle (Drs Holbrook and Smith); and the Division of Reproductive Genetics, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Tennessee, Memphis (Dr Elias).; Dr Holbrook is presently with the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Arch Dermatol. 1993;129(11):1437-1454. doi:10.1001/archderm.1993.01680320071010

Background:  Understanding normal skin development and identifying markers of genetic skin disease expressed in postnatal skin have permitted the prenatal diagnosis of many severe genodermatoses: bullous diseases, keratinization diseases, pigment cell disorders, and disorders of the epidermal appendages (ectodermal dysplasias). Samples of 16 to 22 weeks' gestation fetal skin obtained by ultrasound-guided biopsy are evaluated using morphologic, immunohistochemical, and biochemical methods.

Observations:  The 12-year experience in evaluating samples from fetuses at risk of these disorders has allowed us to establish conditions that must be met before the samples are taken and the criteria for recognizing the disorder, to recommend the site(s) for sampling, and to be mindful of pitfalls that may be encountered in interpreting the tissue structure.

Conclusions:  Fetal skin biopsy is an important diagnostic tool that has permitted families in which members carry the abnormal gene for one of these severe skin diseases to undertake a pregnancy knowing that the condition of the fetus can be determined. Nonetheless, the ultimate goal is phase out this procedure when linkage of more of these disorders to specific genes is understood, specific mutations are characterized, and probes are available for molecular diagnoses using tissue obtained at earlier fetal ages. Until this is possible, fetal skin biopsy remains an important tool that can be used with reasonably high levels of safety and confidence.(Arch Dermatol. 1993;129:1437-1454)

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