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Older fathers and autism link

6th September 2006

06092006_fatherandson1.jpgA study has concluded that children with older fathers have a significantly increased risk of autism.

Examining data on 132,271 children born in Israel during the 1980s the UK and US researchers said that those born to men over 40 were six times more at risk than those born to men under 30. A UK expert said that the study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry could be important in understanding the genetic mechanisms underlying autism.

The researchers, from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, and the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said that among those whose fathers were between 15 and 29 when they were born, the rate of autism was six in every 10,000, rising to nine in every 10,000 when fathers were aged 30 to 39 (1.6 times higher). In the group whose fathers were aged 40 to 49, the rate rose to 32 in 10,000 (5.75 times higher). The rate appeared to be even higher when fathers were aged over 50, but the researchers said the sample size was very small.

The mother's age did not appear to influence the chances a child would have autism.

There may be a genetic fault which is more common with age, say the researchers; it might be spontaneous mutations in sperm-producing cells or alterations in genetic "imprinting," which affects gene expression.

Professor Simon Baron Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, said: "The finding of a significant association with advancing paternal age is one that should be straightforward to test in other samples, to see if this result from a purely Israeli sample generalises to other populations."

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