Children of men age 40 and older have a significantly increased risk of having autism spectrum disorders compared with those whose fathers are younger than 30 years, according to an article in the September issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Autism is characterized by social and language abnormalities and repetitive patterns of behavior, according to background information in the article. Autism and related conditions, known collectively as autism spectrum disorders, have become increasingly common, affecting 50 in every 10,000 children as compared with five in 10,000 two decades ago. This increase is partially due to higher levels of awareness and changes in diagnosis processes, but could also reflect an increase in incidence of autism, according to the authors. Older parental age has previously been linked to abnormalities in the brain development of children; however, few studies have effectively examined the effect of mothers' and especially fathers' ages on autism.

Abraham Reichenberg, Ph.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, and Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and colleagues evaluated this association in children born during the 1980s in Israel. All men and three-fourths of the women born in these years were assessed by the draft board at age 17, during which time any psychiatric disorders were recorded. Dr. Reichenberg and colleagues obtained draft board information and the age of the father for 318,506 individuals; age of the mother was available for 132,271 of those.

Two hundred and eight individuals in the larger group (a rate of 6.5 per 10,000) and 110 in the group with both maternal and paternal ages (8.3 per 10,000) had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, according to the information in the draft board registry. Among the paternal age groups of 15 to 29 years, 30 to 39 years, 40 to 49 years and older than 50 years, there were 34 cases, 62 cases, 13 cases and one case, respectively, of autism spectrum disorders. Advancing age among fathers was associated with increased risk of autism. This association persisted after the researchers controlled for year of birth, socioeconomic status and the mother's age, such that the odds of autism spectrum disorder were nearly six times greater among children of men age 40 and older than those of men 29 years and younger. Older age among mothers was not associated with autism after researchers factored in the effect of the father's age.

The authors discuss several possible genetic mechanisms for the paternal age effect, including spontaneous mutations in sperm-producing cells or alterations in genetic "imprinting," which affects gene expression. "It is important to keep in mind, however, that age at paternity is influenced by the sociocultural environment and varies across societies and over time," they continue. "In a given population, a change in the sociocultural environment could produce a change in paternal age at birth. In theory, it could thereby lead to a change in the incidence of genetic causes of autism."

"Although further work is necessary to confirm this interpretation, we believe that our study provides the first convincing evidence that advanced paternal age is a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder," they conclude.

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Comments on "Older fathers more likely to have autistic children"

joejoe August 22, 2012 | 6:57 PM

I said all along that it was genetic mutations that are causing the explosion of neurological disorders. Now why all of the sudden is age a factor?there have always been older fathers younger moms through the course of history, its a no brainer. What they should have looked at is the fact that vaccines are known mutagens, since after all in 1986 when the vaccine companies got full immunity from lawsuits is when they really just started to require every vaccine available to maximize profits for the Pharmaceutical companies with hundreds of more vaccines in the works, could you just imagine the neurological disorders to come in the near future. There has never been a study that looks at the effects of all the vaccines which are administered to our children. So every year we are seeing an increase of about 10 % in autism rates, if it continues at this rate we will have an autism rate of about 1 in 6 within 10 years, and I seriously doubt that older fathers account for the autism epidemic, and apparently so do the researchers in this study since at the end of the article they say that "de novo gene mutations are a necessary element of human evolution", maybe they are but what mutations are the vaccines causing is what interests people as myself.

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