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Older Fathers May Increase Risk of Autism

By Catherine Croft Swanwick, Ph.D. on August 24, 2012


Background:  Previous epidemiological studies have reported an association between older parents and increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).


What’s New:  A recent study quantified the risk of ASD as parents age.  Scientists studied genetic material from families whose children developed ASD or schizophrenia despite no family history of these disorders, allowing them to search for mutations which occur spontaneously, or de novo, in embryos after they are inherited.


The research team found that DNA inherited from fathers undergoes more mutation as their age at the time of conception increases.  They estimate that DNA inherited from a 20-year-old father undergoes approximately 25 de novo mutations, and that this number increases by two for every additional year of the father’s age.  Unlike other studies, they found no correlation between maternal age and ASD.


Why It’s Important:  Hundreds of de novo mutations have been linked with ASD.  This study shows how quickly the rate of de novo mutations increases as fathers age.  The average age of fathers at time of conception is steadily increasing worldwide, suggesting that advanced paternal age may play a role in the rising prevalence of ASD.


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