Older Dads More Prone to Having Kids With Schizophrenia
The findings suggest "that at least some part of schizophrenia is caused by new [genetic] mutations," says James Crow, PhD, an expert on rates of genetic mutations as a function of a father's age.
After reviewing the study for WebMD, he says it furthers the case "that at least some part of schizophrenia is caused by new [genetic] mutations."
The older men get, the greater their risk of passing on genetic mutations, says Crow, professor emeritus of genetics at the University of Wisconsin, who reviewed the study for WebMD, probably because the number of times sperm-producing cells must duplicate also increases with age. The more duplications, the more chance there is for error.
Psychologist Enid Reed, PhD, has another interpretation.
The risk of genetic mutations increases with age, she agrees, but there are other risk factors associated with developing schizophrenia that the researchers might not have considered. For example, pregnant women who come down with the flu during their second trimester are also at increased risk of having a child who will eventually develop schizophrenia
So before you older men call off your baby plans, heed the advice of Malaspina and Crow.
"It's important for people to realize that most offspring of older fathers are perfectly fine," says Malaspina. "I would not want this to be interpreted that older fathers should not have children, but this does possibly suggest that when people are planning their families, they might consider the age of the father as well as the mother."
Furthermore, says Crow, the effect of age is not very large, and these findings are more relevant to the ongoing efforts being made to understand the cause of schizophrenia. This research is just one step more along the path of clarifying the role genes play in the development of the disease.