Aging Fathers and Risk of Autism

Autism risk may be passed down through dad's genes

(RxWiki News) Researchers are learning more about the genes that influence autism. A new study suggests that fathers may be passing along gene changes that increase risk of autism.

As fathers age, they are more likely to have changes to the genetic code that are passed along to their children.

Those changes to the genes may explain why autism and schizophrenia are more common in the children of older parents.

"Talk to your doctor about your child’s autism risk."

A recent study, led by Augustine Kong, PhD, of deCODE Genetics, looked at the genes 78 families. They looked for new gene mutations – changes to the genetic code.

They found that the number of changes to the genetic code in the child was linked to how old the father was at the time the child was conceived.

The older a father was, the more changes to the genetic code were present.

These changes were not part of the father’s genes, but new changes that happened when sperm was made or at the time of conception.

Sperm are made throughout a man's lifespan. Sperm carry the genes of the father to the child, but changes can happen to the genes.

The authors concluded that this finding helps to explain why the risk for diseases, like autism and schizophrenia, are higher for the children of older fathers.

This study did not look at risk for autism or other conditions. They looked only at the rate of mutations that were accumulating in the sperm as fathers aged.

This is the not the first study to suggest that the older fathers are the more gene mutations they have.

In April, researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine, led by Brian O’Roak, PhD, looked at the gene mutations directly linked to risk of autism.

They found that gene changes that were linked to autism were four times more likely to come from the father. The older the father was the more gene changes that were linked to autism he was likely to pass along.

Together, these findings show how age is linked to gene changes and may help researchers to better understand the causes of autism.

Dr. Kong’s study was published in August in Nature. Authors report financial links to deCODE Genetics and Illumina, Inc. – both companies that develop genetic technologies.

Review Date: 
September 5, 2012