There is a strong genetic component for schizophrenia risk, but it is unclear how the illness is maintained in the population given the significantly reduced fertility of those with the disorder. One possibility is that new mutations occur in schizophrenia vulnerability genes. If so, then those with schizophrenia may have older fathers, because advancing paternal age is the major source of new mutations in humans. This review describes several neurodevelopmental disorders that have been associated with de novo mutations in the paternal germ line and reviews data linking increased schizophrenia risk with older fathers. Several genetic mechanisms that could explain this association are proposed, including paternal germ line mutations, trinucleotide repeat expansions, and alterations in genetic imprinting in one or several genes involved in neurodevelopment. Animal models may be useful in exploring these and other explanations for the paternal age effect and they may provide a novel approach for gene identification. Finally, it is proposed that environmental exposures of the father, as well as those of the mother and developing fetus, may be relevant to the etiology of schizophrenia.
Keywords: Development, signaling, schizophrenia, genetics, teratogenesis, neuronal circuits