Older Father May Increase Child's Risk of Autism

Risk of autism nearly six times higher in children whose fathers were in their 40s

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Children whose fathers were in their 40s when they were born are nearly six times more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared with those whose fathers were under 30 years of age, according to a study in the September issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Abraham Reichenberg, Ph.D., of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues retrospectively assessed paternal age and the risk of ASD in 318,506 persons born in Israel during six consecutive years in the 1980s. The maternal age was also available for 132,271 of the cohort. Nearly all of the men and 75 percent of the women had been examined for psychiatric disorders at 17 years of age when they underwent draft board assessment.

The researchers found that 8.3 per 10,000 persons in the group with complete parental age data had developed ASD. Even after taking the year of birth, socioeconomic status and maternal age into account, those whose fathers were in their 40s when they were born were 5.75 times more likely to have developed ASD than those whose fathers were under 30 years of age. After adjusting for paternal age, the team found no association between older maternal age and ASD.

"Advanced paternal age was associated with increased risk of ASD," the authors conclude. They suggest that mutations or alterations in genetic imprinting could be responsible, but also note that changes in the sociocultural environment could change the paternal age at birth and "could thereby lead to a change in the incidence of genetic causes of autism."

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