NY Times Features NARSAD Grantee Study on Father’s Age and Mental Illness

Brian M. D’Onofrio, Ph.D., Expert on mental illness
Brian M. D’Onofrio, Ph.D.

A new research study published on February 26th in the journal JAMA Psychiatry offers further evidence that children born to middle-aged men are more likely than those born to younger men to develop a mental illness. In an article in today’s issue of The New York Times, Benedict Carey explains the results of the research. He quotes two Foundation Distinguished Investigator Grantees not involved with the study, Patrick F. Sullivan, M.D., of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University.

The research team, led by 2011 Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Klerman Honorable Mention Prizewinner, Brian M. D’Onofrio, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Indiana University Bloomington, analyzed medical and public records of approximately 2.6 million people born in Sweden between 1973 and 2001. Findings showed a clear pattern of increased risk for psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with increasing paternal age. Dr. D’Onofrio was awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant in 2007.

“This is the best paper I’ve seen on this topic, and it suggests several lines of inquiry into mental illness,” Dr. Sullivan told the Times. “But the last thing people should do is read this and say, ‘Oh no, I had a kid at 43, the kid’s doomed.’ The vast majority of kids born to older dads will be just fine,” he went on to say.

While the increased risk of developing mental illness in offspring of older fathers has been demonstrated in many studies, there remain open questions about why this is the case. Foundation Scientific Council member Daniel R. Weinberger, M.D., Director of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, recently authored a paper with colleagues in Molecular Psychiatry that disputes the common belief that this occurs because of the increased number of “de novo” (or new) mutations in men’s sperm as they age. Further studies will be needed to fully understand the cause or causes of this association between increased paternal age and risk for mental illness.

Read the complete article by Benedict Carey in today’s New York Times.

Click here to read an abstract of this research.

Read an abstract of the article in Molecular Psychiatry.

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