Dads Affect Kids’ Bipolar Disorder

Fathers who have offspring at a later age are causing their children to be more susceptible to bipolar disorder

A new report in the September issue of Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that fathers who have offspring at a later age are causing their children to be more susceptible to bipolar disorder. For the study, researchers identified 13,428 patients in Swedish registers with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and randomly selected five controls who were the same sex and born in the same year but not diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Once the two groups had been compared, researchers found that the older an individual’s father, the more prone they were to have developed bipolar disorder. After setting controls for the number of children, maternal age, socioeconomic status, and family history of psychotic disorders, the researchers determined that “the offspring of men 55 years and older were 1.37 times more likely to be diagnosed as having bipolar disorder than the offspring of men aged 20 to 24 years.” Researchers did mention that offspring of older mothers also had an increased risk for the condition but that it was much less pronounced. They also mentioned that, for early-onset bipolar disorder, the “effect of the father's age was much stronger and there was no association with the mother's age.”

Why the stronger genetic link between older men and children with bipolar disorder, but not the older women? Researchers Emma M. Frans, of the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues wrote that “As men age, successive germ cell replications occur, and de novo [new, not passed from parent to offspring] mutations accumulate monotonously as a result of DNA copy errors. Women are born with their full supply of eggs that have gone through only 23 replications, a number that does not change as they age. Therefore, DNA copy errors should not increase in number with maternal age. Consistent with this notion, we found smaller effects of increased maternal age on the risk of bipolar disorder in the offspring.”

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