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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2011;133(2-4):280-91. doi: 10.1159/000322816. Epub 2011 Jan 6.

Is there a paternal age effect for aneuploidy?

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  • 1School of Biosciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.


Finding a positive association between paternal age and the incidence of aneuploidy is not difficult. A cursory analysis however reveals that any association is indirect, brought about by a close correlation between paternal age and maternal age. Approaches for dissecting out the confounding age effects of the mother has led to a lively exchange among epidemiologists, with perhaps a consensus for the absence of a paternal age effect, at least for trisomy 21. Molecular studies revealed the relatively minor contribution of paternal errors to trisomy, but even research on the paternally derived trisomies alone has been inconclusive; thus studies focussed directly on the sperm heads. Human-hamster fusion assays were superseded by FISH for establishing any possible link between age and the proportion of disomic sperm in an ejaculate. Despite innumerable microscope hours however, although convincing studies suggesting an age effect for disomies 1, 9, 18 and 21 and the sex chromosomes are in the literature, others failed to notice any association for these or other chromosomes. It is biologically plausible that chromosomal non-disjunction errors should increase with age. Male reproductive hormone production, testicular morphology and semen parameters all decline slowly with age and paternal age is implicated in congenital birth defects, such as achondroplasia and Apert syndromes and also linked to compromised DNA repair mechanisms. Despite several decades of epidemiological and molecular cytogenetic studies, however, we are still not close to a definitive answer of whether or not there is a paternal age effect for aneuploidy. In this review we conclude by questioning the efficacy of FISH because of difficulties in detecting nullisomy and because of evidence that the centromeres (from which most sperm-FISH probes are derived) cluster at the nuclear centre. Array-based approaches may well supersede FISH in addressing the question of a paternal age effect; for now, however, the jury is still out.

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