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Associations between accelerated parental biologic age, autism spectrum disorder, social traits, and developmental and cognitive outcomes in their children

Parental age is a known risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), however, studies to identify the biologic changes underpinning this association are limited. In recent years, “epigenetic clock” algorithms have been developed to estimate biologic age and to evaluate how the epigenetic aging impacts health and disease. In this study, we examined the relationship between parental epigenetic aging and their child’s prospective risk of ASD and autism related quantitative traits in the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation study. Estimates of epigenetic age were computed using three robust clock algorithms and DNA methylation measures from the Infinium HumanMethylation450k platform for maternal blood and paternal blood specimens collected during pregnancy. Epigenetic age acceleration was defined as the residual of regressing chronological age on epigenetic age while accounting for cell type proportions. Multinomial logistic regression and linear regression models were completed adjusting for potential confounders for both maternal epigenetic age acceleration (n = 163) and paternal epigenetic age acceleration (n = 80). We found accelerated epigenetic aging in mothers estimated by Hannum’s clock was significantly associated with lower cognitive ability and function in offspring at 12 months, as measured by Mullen Scales of Early Learning scores (β = -1.66, 95% CI: -3.28, -0.04 for a one-unit increase). We also observed a marginal association between accelerated maternal epigenetic aging by Horvath’s clock and increased odds of ASD in offspring at 36 months of age (aOR = 1.12, 95% CI: 0.99, 1.26). By contrast, fathers accelerated aging was marginally associated with decreased ASD risk in their offspring (aOR = 0.83, 95% CI: 0.68, 1.01). Our findings suggest epigenetic aging could play a role in parental age risks on child brain development.

Authors: Song, Ashley Y; Croen, Lisa A; Ladd-Acosta, Christine; et al.

Autism Res. 2022 Dec;15(12):2359-2370. Epub 2022-10-03.

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