The teratogenic effects of thalidomide on limbs

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Thalidomide remains notorious as a result of the damage it caused to children born to mothers who used it to treat morning sickness between 1957 and 1961. The re-emergence of the drug to treat a range of conditions including erythema nodosum leprosum (a complication of leprosy) has led to a new generation of thalidomide damaged children being born in Brazil. Although thalidomide affects most of the developing tissues and organs of the body, the damage to the limbs is striking. Indeed phocomelia, the severe reduction or loss of the proximal long bones with retention of the distal hand/foot plate remains the stereotypical image of thalidomide. This review focuses on the type and range of damage thalidomide caused to the limbs, reviews current understanding of the mechanisms underlying thalidomide-induced limb malformations and outlines some of the challenges remaining in elucidating its teratogenicity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-95
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of hand surgery-European volume
Issue number1
Early online date18 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Thanks to members of the Thalidomide Society for helpful discussions on thalidomide-induced limb damage.

The author disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Research in the lab has previously been sponsored by Wellcome Trust, Royal Society and University of Aberdeen.


  • Phocomelia
  • limb development
  • cereblon
  • SALL4
  • anti-angiogenesis
  • cell death
  • vascular transition
  • Duane-radial-ray syndrome
  • Acro-renal ocular syndrome
  • IVIC syndrome
  • Acro-renal-ocular syndrome


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