Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) can occur in children whose mothers contracted the rubella virus, sometimes called German measles, during pregnancy. Depending on the gestational period when the mother contracts rubella, an infant born with CRS may be unaffected by the virus or it may have severe developmental defects. The most severe effects of the virus on fetal development occur when the mother contracts rubella between conception and the first trimester. Defects from maternal rubella in the first trimester are included in the term congenital rubella syndrome, but physicians and researchers specifically refer to those defects as rubella embryopathy. Developmental defects are less severe if the mother contracts rubella in the second trimester, and they are generally negligible if the infection occurs in the third trimester. Prenatal rubella infection can cause birth defects which include deafness, compromised vision, abnormal heart development, and damage to the central nervous system which can lead to compromised cognition and learning disabilities.

Environment and Birth Defects by James Graves Wilson in the US was published in 1973. The book summarized information on the causes of malformations in newborns and aimed to acquaint policy makers with Wilson's suggestions for predicting the risks of environmental causes of birth defects, called teratogens. Wilson also provided six principles for researching teratogens, a framework revised from his 1959 article Experimental Studies on Congenital Malformations. The book has ten chapters. The body of the text is followed by three appendices that contain reference material and photographs of laboratory animals, and reproductive and embryological information.

Teratogens are substances that may produce physical or functional defects in the human embryo or fetus after the pregnant woman is exposed to the substance. Alcohol and cocaine are examples of such substances. Exposure to the teratogen affects the fetus or embryo in a variety of ways, such as the duration of exposure, the amount of teratogenic substance, and the stage of development the embryo or fetus is in during the exposure. Teratogens may affect the embryo or fetus in a number of ways, causing physical malformations, problems in the behavioral or emotional development of the child, and decreased intellectual quotient IQ in the child. Additionally, teratogens may also affect pregnancies and cause complications such as preterm labors, spontaneous abortions, or miscarriages. Teratogens are classified into four types: physical agents, metabolic conditions, infection, and finally, drugs and chemicals.

James Graves Wilson's six principles of teratology, published in 1959, guide research on teratogenic agents and their effects on developing organisms. Wilson's six principles were inspired by Gabriel Madeleine Camille Dareste's five principles of experimental teratology published in 1877. Teratology is the study of birth defects, and a teratogen is something that either induces or amplifies abnormal embryonic or fetal development and causes birth defects. Detailed in his 1973 monograph, Environment and Birth Defects, Wilson's principles helped scientists research teratogens experimentally.

Vitamin A (retinol) is an essential vitamin in the daily functioning of human beings that helps regulate cellular differentiation of epithelial tissue. Studies have shown that an excess of vitamin A can affect embryonic development and result in teratogenesis, or the production of birth defects in a developing embryo. Excess intake of vitamin A and retinoids by pregnant women often results malformations to fetuses' skulls, faces, limbs, eyes, central nervous system. Additionally, doctors often use derivatives of vitamin A, known as retinoids, as medicine to treat a number of skin conditions and carcinomas, the most common form of human cancers.

Thalidomide is a sedative drug introduced to European markets on 1 October 1957 after extensive testing on rodent embryos to ensure its safety. Early laboratory tests in rodent populations showed that pregnant rodents could safely use it, so doctors prescribed Thalidomide to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. However, in humans Thalidomide interfered with embryonic and fetal development in ways not observed in rodent tests. Pregnant women who take Thalidomide are at grater than normal risk for spontaneous abortion and for giving birth to children with developmental anomalies such as shortened, absent, or extra limbs, as well as a variety of heart, ear, and internal organ defects. The failure of rodent models to inform scientists of Thalidomide's teratogenicity in humans ignited debate about the proper use of cross-species testing during drug development.

In 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration published the Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Rule to amend previous guidelines for the prescription of drugs for pregnant and lactating women. The 2014 Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Rule was intended to increase the safety and efficacy of prescription drugs by making drug labels easier for physicians to understand and utilize. The Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Rule restructured drug labels and required that they include narratives describing drug-associated risks to women and fetuses, rather than using complicated letter categories. The Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Rule changed the framework for drug labeling, making it easier for doctors to prescribe safe and effective drugs to pregnant women, lactating women, and people of reproductive capacity.

The article Experimental Studies on Congenital Malformations was published in the Journal of Chronic Diseases in 1959. The author, James G. Wilson, studied embryos and birth defects at the University of Florida Medical School in Gainesville, Florida. In his article, Wilson reviewed experiments on birds and mammals from the previous forty years to provide general principles and guidelines in the study of birth defects and teratogens, which are things that cause birth defects. Those principles included what species are convenient for conducting teratological research, what principles act in human embryological and fetal development, and what agents impact those processes. Wilson's article was one of the first attempts in the twentieth century to synthesize basic research conducted in the field of teratology. The article helped to establish teratology as a field in medicine during the twentieth century.

Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire studied anatomy and congenital abnormalities in humans and other animals in nineteenth century France. Under the tutelage of his father, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Isidore compiled and built on his father's studies of individuals with developmental malformations, then called monstrosities. In 1832, Isidore published Histoire generale et particuliere des anomalies de l'organisation chez l'homme et les animaux (General and Particular History of Structural Monstrosities in Man and Animals), in which he defined the term teratology as the study of birth defects and deformities. Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire established teratology as a legitimate branch of scientific study.

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