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Mutat Res. 1992 Dec;296(1-2):69-88.

Maternal age effect: the enigma of Down syndrome and other trisomic conditions.

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Radiology Department, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas 75235-9071.


Aneuploidy is the most frequently observed chromosome abnormality in human liveborn, abortuses and oocytes. The only etiological factor that has been established is advanced maternal age for the occurrence of trisomies, particularly trisomy 21 which causes Down syndrome. The maternal age effect remains an enigma. Recent molecular data bearing on this question are reviewed as are the hypotheses that have been proposed linking nondisjunction and maternal age. Rationale is presented for a compromised microcirculation hypothesis that explains the cause of nondisjunction and why its occurrence changes with maternal age from menarche to menopause. It takes into account two facts: (1) 95% of Down syndrome children receive their extra chromosome from their mother, and in 80% or more of these the nondisjunction occurred in the first meiotic division, which is completed in the ovary. (2) The ovarian follicle containing the primary oocyte has no internal circulation. The hypothesis proposes that aneuploid oocytes arise from a concatenation of events. It begins with hormonal imbalance that causes a less-than-optimal microvasculature to develop around the maturing and mature follicles. The resulting decrease in the size of the perifollicular capillary bed reduces the volume of blood flow through the area, leading to an oxygen deficit and a concomitant increase inside the follicle of carbon dioxide and anaerobic products, such as lactic acid. This in turn causes a decrease in the intracellular pH of the oocyte that diminishes the size of the spindle, with consequent displacement and nondisjunction of a chromosome. The compromised microcirculation hypothesis explains the occurrence of aneuploidy in primary and secondary oocytes, sperm precursor cells, tumor and embryonic cells. It also explains why women of all reproductive ages may have a Down syndrome child.

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