Older fathers more likely to have children with schizophrenia

New York, NY - April 9, 2001-- Older fathers are much more likely to have children with schizophrenia, a study led by Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons researchers has found.

The finding extends a growing body of evidence that older fathers are more likely to have children with a wide variety of gene-influenced illnesses. Advancing paternal age accounts for as many as one in four schizophrenia cases, said Dolores Malaspina, M.D., lead author of the study. Dr. Malaspina is associate professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and head of the Laboratory of Clinical Neurobiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute's Medical Genetics Division.

The findings complement other studies that show "a man has a biological clock, too," Dr. Malaspina said. "Men should be aware of the risks when they do their family planning." The research supports the hypothesis that as the fathers age, sperm cells can accumulate mutations that are passed to offspring, say the study's authors. The findings are published in the April issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

A child's risk of developing schizophrenia rises dramatically and steadily as the age of the father increases, according to the study, conducted in collaboration with New York University School of Medicine and the Israel Ministry of Health. The findings suggest that men between the ages of 45 and 49 are twice as likely than those under age 25 to have children with the devastating mental illness. Men aged 50 or older, furthermore, appear to be at three times that risk. Schizophrenia is believed to result from an as-yet poorly understood mix of genetic and environmental factors. Several genes may be involved.

The new findings don't identify the genetic culprits but do help explain several longstanding mysteries about schizophrenia's epidemiology. First, the illness is remarkably persistent in human populations over tim

Contact: Carolyn Conway-Hoare
Columbia University Medical Center

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