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Fathers over 40 and increased failure to conceive: the lessons of in vitro fertilization in France

  • Elise de La Rochebrochard
    Correspondence
    Reprint requests: Elise de La Rochebrochard, Ph.D., INSERM Unit 569, Bicêtre Hospital, 82 rue du Général Leclerc, 94275 Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France Tel. 33 1 45 21 23 33, (FAX: 33 1 45 21 20 75)
    Affiliations
    INED, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France

    INSERM, Unit 569, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France

    Université Paris-Sud 11, Faculté de Médecine Paris-Sud, Bicêtre Hospital, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France

    AP-HP, Hôpital Bicêtre, Groupement Hospitalier Universitaire Sud, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France
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  • Jacques de Mouzon
    Affiliations
    INED, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France

    INSERM, Unit 569, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France

    Université Paris-Sud 11, Faculté de Médecine Paris-Sud, Bicêtre Hospital, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France

    AP-HP, Hôpital Bicêtre, Groupement Hospitalier Universitaire Sud, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, F-94276, France
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  • François Thépot
    Affiliations
    CHU d’Amiens, Laboratoire de Biologie de la Réproduction, Amiens, France
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  • Patrick Thonneau
    Affiliations
    INSERM, Human Fertility Research Group, Hôpital Paule de Viguier, Toulouse, France
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  • French National IVF Registry (FIVNAT) association

      Objective

      To investigate paternal age effect mediated by biological modifications with use of data from assisted reproductive technologies.

      Design

      National IVF registry.

      Setting

      Fifty nine French IVF centers.

      Patient(s)

      A total of 1,938 men whose partners were totally sterile, with bilateral tubal obstruction or absence of both tubes (to avoid bias sampling in analysis of paternal age) and treated by conventional IVF.

      Intervention(s)

      None.

      Main Outcome Measure(s)

      Risk of failure to conceive defined as absence of intrauterine pregnancy.

      Result(s)

      The odds ratio of failure to conceive for paternal age ≥40 years was 2.00 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.10–3.61) when the woman was 35–37 years old, 2.03 (95% CI: 1.12–3.68) for age 38–40 years, and 5.74 (95% CI: 2.16, 15.23) for age 41 years and over.

      Conclusion(s)

      As an increasing number of couples choose to postpone childbearing, they should be informed that paternal age over 40 years is an important risk factor for failure to conceive.

      Key Words

      In industrialized countries, demographers have observed a trend to delay childbearing, reflecting couples’ desire to have children at older ages. However, the risk of reproductive difficulties is clearly increased for couples who delay childbearing until after the age of 35. Maternal age over 35 years increases risks of infertility, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy (
      • Menken J.
      • Trussell J.
      • Larsen U.
      Age and infertility.
      ,
      • Nybo Andersen A.M.
      • Wohlfahrt J.
      • Christens P.
      • Olsen J.
      • Melbye M.
      Maternal age and fetal loss population based register linkage study.
      ). Moreover, a recent simulation model showed that assisted reproductive techniques (ART) “do not fully compensate for the years (and the chances of conceiving) lost” (
      • Leridon H.
      Can assisted reproduction technology compensate for the natural decline in fertility with age? A model assessment.
      ). This marked maternal age effect led to the conclusion that 35 years is the “amber light” in the reproductive life of women (
      • Gosden R.
      • Rutherford A.
      Delayed childbearing.
      ).
      Paternal age was long almost ignored in studies of age effect on reproductive outcomes, but its potential role has recently been investigated. Some works have shown that increasing paternal age is accompanied by greater risk of delay in achieving pregnancy, of miscarriage and of late fetal death (
      • Nybo Andersen A.M.
      • Hansen K.D.
      • Andersen P.K.
      • Davey Smith G.
      Advanced paternal age and risk of fetal death a cohort study.
      ,
      • de La Rochebrochard E.
      • Thonneau P.
      Paternal age and maternal age are risk factors for miscarriage; results of a multicentre European study.
      ,
      • de La Rochebrochard E.
      • Thonneau P.
      Paternal age over 40 years an important risk factor for infertility.
      ,
      • Dunson D.B.
      • Colombo B.
      • Baird D.D.
      Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle.
      ). In a recent review of the literature, we considered that 40 years could be the “amber light” in male reproductive life, as is 35 years for women’s reproductive life (
      • de La Rochebrochard E.
      • McElreavey K.
      • Thonneau P.
      Paternal age over 40 years the “amber light” in the reproductive life of men?.
      ). The demonstrated effect of paternal age on risk of delay in achieving pregnancy could be the consequence of either biological modification of the male reproductive tract or of decrease in male sexual activity. When analyzing natural conception, it is very difficult to distinguish sexual and biological consequences of age. To analyze paternal age effect mediated by biological aging alone, data on medically assisted cycles provide a very interesting model.
      Data on medically assisted reproduction have been used to confirm a biological effect of maternal age on the probability of conception (
      • Schwartz D.
      • Mayaux M.J.
      Female fecundity as a function of age: results of artificial insemination in 2193 nulliparous women with azoospermic husbands. Federation CECOS.
      ). To avoid sampling bias in analysis of infertile couples, Schwartz and Mayaux selected couples requesting artificial insemination with donor semen (AID) because the men were totally sterile (azoospermic men only). Among these couples whose sterility was linked to male reproductive impairment, the authors hypothesized that the women’s fecundity was comparable to that of the general population, and so the maternal age effect in this population requiring AID could be extrapolated to the general population. This study confirmed that maternal age affected the probability of conception, mediated by biological aging of the women. It demonstrated that this effect began as early as 30 years and became significant after age of 35. To confirm a biological effect of paternal age, the methodology of Schwartz and Mayaux could be applied by selecting couples requiring medical assistance because the wife was totally sterile.
      To confirm the hypothesis of a biological paternal age effect on the risk of failure to conceive, we studied ART data from the French national in vitro fertilization (IVF) registry by selecting couples requesting IVF because the woman was totally sterile, that is to say with bilateral tubal obstruction or absence of both tubes.

      Materials and methods

      Since 1986, the French National IVF Registry (FIVNAT) has collected information on aspiration cycles performed in France (
      • de Mouzon J.
      • Bachelot A.
      • Spira A.
      Establishing a national in vitro fertilization registry methodological problems and analysis of success rates.
      ). The FIVNAT registry received approval from the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) on December 17, 1987 (authorization no. 174168). The IVF centers participate voluntarily in this registry. The 79 centers currently belonging to FIVNAT perform nearly 90% of the aspiration cycles in this country. We performed data quality control on FIVNAT centers concerning fulfilling of key items and thus restricted our analysis to 59 centers (75%). To analyze paternal age, we investigated couples requesting conventional IVF in which the female partners were totally sterile (i.e., with bilateral tubal obstruction or absence of both tubes). To avoid bias due to changes in ART techniques, especially related to increasingly widespread use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), we restricted our investigation to IVF performed since 2000. Finally, 1,938 couples treated by conventional IVF for bilateral tubal obstruction were included in this study.
      We analyzed the risk of failure to conceive, defined as absence of intrauterine pregnancy confirmed by echography and an HCG level >1,000 IU. Age effect was considered by using 5-year age classes. Because the age of 37 years has previously been demonstrated as a cutoff point for the effect of maternal age on IVF success rate (
      • Piette C.
      • de Mouzon J.
      • Bachelot A.
      • Spira A.
      FIVNAT (French In Vitro National)
      In-vitro fertilization influence of women’s age on pregnancy rates.
      ), we divided the group of women 35–40 years old into two subgroups: 35–37 years old and 38–40 years old.
      Age effects were analyzed based on odds ratios estimated by logistic regression using the SAS system (version 8.02) (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC) package. Estimation of odds ratios relies on the method of maximum likelihood and confidence intervals for odds ratios were computed based on individual Wald tests. In a first logistic multivariate model, we analyzed paternal age effect by controlling for maternal age effect. This model is based on the hypothesis that the paternal age effect is the same whether the woman is young, middle-aged or older. This hypothesis has been debated in some studies which indicated that the paternal age effect may be greater when the woman is 35 years old and over than among younger women (
      • de La Rochebrochard E.
      • Thonneau P.
      Paternal age over 40 years an important risk factor for infertility.
      ,
      • Dunson D.B.
      • Colombo B.
      • Baird D.D.
      Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle.
      ). To take into account the possibility that paternal age effect may differ according to maternal age, we also used a second model that included an interaction factor between maternal age and paternal age.

      Results

      As shown in Table 1 and Table 2, the risk of failure to conceive clearly increased with maternal age and with paternal age in both models. In Table 1, without male and female age interaction, a significant maternal age effect appeared in women 38–40 years old and in women ≥41 years old. The odds ratio for paternal age ≥40 years compared with <30 years was 1.70 (95% CI: 1.14–2.52).
      TABLE 1Adjusted OR and 95% CI of risk of failure to conceive after IVF attempts in a logistic regression model without maternal/paternal age interaction (n = 1,938).
      NAdjusted OR (95% CI)
      Maternal age (y)
       <303781.00
       30–346540.99 (0.73–1.36)
       35–374281.23 (0.85–1.77)
       38–403021.59 (1.05–2.42)
       >401762.21 (1.28–3.80)
      Paternal age (y)
       <302761.00
       30–345971.52 (1.08–2.14)
       35–395851.32 (0.92–1.89)
       ≥404801.70 (1.14–2.52)
      Note: OR = odds ratio; CI = confidence interval.
      de La Rochebrochard. Fathers over 40 and failure to conceive. Fertil Steril 2006.
      TABLE 2Adjusted OR and 95% CI of risk of failure to conceive after IVF attempts in a logistic regression model with maternal/paternal age interaction (n = 1,938).
      Paternal age (y)Maternal age (y)
      <3030–3435–3738–40>40
      <301.000.791.621.290.49
      (reference group)(0.42, 1.51)(0.57, 4.57)(0.48, 3.43)(0.16, 1.50)
      (n = 145)(n = 63)(n = 27)(n = 27)(n = 14)
      30–341.441.341.491.475.34
      (0.84, 2.46)(0.84, 2.13)(0.78, 2.85)(0.65, 3.33)(1.22, 23.42)
      (n = 152)(n = 283)(n = 86)(n = 45)(n = 31)
      35–390.781.241.333.052.16
      (0.40, 1.50)(0.76, 2.02)(0.80, 2.22)(1.44, 6.48)(0.89, 5.20)
      (n = 59)(n = 205)(n = 180)(n = 93)(n = 48)
      ≥401.251.362.002.035.74
      (0.43, 3.62)(0.75, 2.46)(1.10, 3.61)(1.12, 3.68)(2.16, 15.23)
      (n = 22)(n = 103)(n = 135)(n = 137)(n = 83)
      de La Rochebrochard. Fathers over 40 and failure to conceive. Fertil Steril 2006.
      In Table 2, taking into account an interaction between male and female ages, the odds ratio of failure to conceive for paternal age ≥40 years was 2.00 (95% CI: 1.10–3.61) when the woman was 35–37 years old, 2.03 (95% CI: 1.12–3.68) for age 38–40 years, and 5.74 (95% CI: 2.16, 15.23) for 41 years old and over.

      Discussion

      Our results provide, for the first time, strong evidence for a paternal age effect on failure to conceive that is linked only to biological male aging (without confusion with sexual activity). We observed a clear tendency to increased risk of failure to conceive, especially when the fathers were over 40 years old. Results in the first and last classes in Table 2 (older woman with young man or young woman with older man) should be interpreted with caution because of the small number of couples in these classes. We thus analyzed Table 2 by concentrating on classes with at least 30 couples. This revealed a clear increase in risk of failure to conceive with paternal age over 40 years when the woman was 35 years old and over.
      The paternal age effect was demonstrated here in a population of couples treated in IVF programs and who were highly selected on the fertility characteristics of the woman (women who were totally sterile, i.e., with bilateral tubal obstruction or absence of both tubes). This finding can be extrapolated to the general population on the basis of the hypothesis that these sterile women have no tendency to bond with men having any particular fertility characteristics. To our knowledge, no biological or sociological evidence exists at the present time that could seriously question this hypothesis.
      Our results on a paternal age effect after 40 years are in accordance with results recently published concerning the general population. In a European population-based study of couples attempting to conceive naturally, a significant odds ratio of 2.99 (95% CI: 2.77, 7.55) for the risk of not having conceived after 12 months of attempting to achieve pregnancy was observed when the woman was 35–39 years old and the man 40 years old and over (
      • de La Rochebrochard E.
      • Thonneau P.
      Paternal age over 40 years an important risk factor for infertility.
      ). A similar tendency was observed in another European study of 782 couples, which showed a decrease in the daily probability of conception in couples composed of a woman 35–39 years old and of a man in his late thirties or older (
      • Dunson D.B.
      • Colombo B.
      • Baird D.D.
      Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle.
      ).
      It has been demonstrated that couples having difficulty in conceiving also have an increased risk of miscarriage (
      • Gray R.H.
      • Wu L.Y.
      Subfertility and risk of spontaneous abortion.
      ). Thus, the association between paternal age and failure to conceive raised the question of a possible association between paternal age and miscarriage. In the literature, an increased risk of miscarriage was observed in couples composed of a woman 35 years old and over and of a man 40 years old and over (OR = 6.73; 95% CI: 3.50, 12.95) (
      • de La Rochebrochard E.
      • Thonneau P.
      Paternal age and maternal age are risk factors for miscarriage; results of a multicentre European study.
      ). More recently, in a large Danish cohort, a twofold increase of the risk of early fetal death was found when the father was 50 years old and over compared with fathers 25–29 years old, after controlling for various confounders and especially for maternal age (
      • Nybo Andersen A.M.
      • Hansen K.D.
      • Andersen P.K.
      • Davey Smith G.
      Advanced paternal age and risk of fetal death a cohort study.
      ). In the same cohort, the authors showed a paternal age effect as early as 45 years when considering late fetal deaths.
      In a prospective American study of a cohort of more than 5,000 Californian women, the association between paternal age and risk of spontaneous abortion was analyzed by distinguishing between the risk of fetal death during the first trimester of pregnancy and the risk of fetal death during the beginning of the second trimester (up to 20 weeks of gestation) (
      • Slama R.
      • Bouyer J.
      • Windham G.
      • Fenster L.
      • Werwatz A.
      • Swan S.H.
      Influence of paternal age on the risk of spontaneous abortion.
      ). The authors concluded that elevated paternal age (≥35 years) increased the risk of spontaneous abortion during the first trimester and at the beginning of the second trimester, with a suggestion that the association was stronger for deaths occurring during the first trimester.
      Interestingly, a remarkable concordance exists among all these studies, stressing the fact that older fathers (≥40–45 years old) have a key impact on both reproductive issues, failure to conceive, and miscarriage. The mechanism for the paternal age effect remains to be explained. Previously, as for maternal age, the genetic hypothesis had been emphasized (
      American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee
      ACOG committee opinion. Advanced paternal age: risks to the fetus. No. 189, October 1997. Committee on Genetics.
      ,
      • Kuhnert B.
      • Nieschlag E.
      Reproductive functions of the ageing male.
      ). After analysis of 11,535 pregnancies obtained by artificial insemination using donor spermatozoa, an increased risk of trisomy 21 for the fetus when the donor was ≥38 years old has been suggested (
      • Thépot F.
      • Mayaux M.J.
      • Czyglick F.
      • Wack T.
      • Selva J.
      • Jalbert P.
      Incidence of birth defects after artificial insemination with frozen donor spermatozoa a collaborative study of the French CECOS Federation on 11,535 pregnancies.
      ). The aneuploidy rate for both sex chromosomes and for autosomes 9 and 18 was also investigated by comparing 15 men 30 years old and less, and 8 men 60 years old and older (
      • Luetjens C.M.
      • Rolf C.
      • Gassner P.
      • Werny J.E.
      • Nieschlag E.
      Sperm aneuploidy rates in younger and older men.
      ), but no significant differences between the two age groups were revealed in this recent study. Therefore, the effect of paternal age on aneuploidy remains debatable, and insight into this question may be gained in the future from analysis of aneuploidy mechanisms (
      • Martin R.H.
      Mechanisms of nondisjunction in human spermatogenesis.
      ).
      Cytogenetic analysis of semen specimens collected from donors has demonstrated an increased risk of frequency of numerical and structural aberrations in men 59–74 years old compared with men 23–39 years old (
      • Sartorelli E.M.
      • Mazzucatto L.F.
      • de Pina-Neto J.M.
      Effect of paternal age on human sperm chromosomes.
      ). More recently, a review indicated that the paternal age effect may be mediated principally by structural chromosomal aberrations in sperm (
      • Sloter E.
      • Nath J.
      • Eskenazi B.
      • Wyrobek A.J.
      Effects of male age on the frequencies of germinal and heritable chromosomal abnormalities in humans and rodents.
      ). Several authors have also suggested an increased risk of autosomal dominant diseases in children of fathers 40 years old and older (
      • Friedman J.M.
      Genetic disease in the offspring of older fathers.
      ). Male genetic alterations could be mediated by age-related increases in germ cell mutations, impairment of DNA repair mechanisms, and apoptotic processes (
      • Morris I.D.
      • Ilott S.
      • Dixon L.
      • Brison D.R.
      The spectrum of DNA damage in human sperm assessed by single cell gel electrophoresis (Comet assay) and its relationship to fertilization and embryo development.
      ,
      • Singh N.P.
      • Muller C.H.
      • Berger R.E.
      Effects of age on DNA double-strand breaks and apoptosis in human sperm.
      ,
      • Crow J.F.
      The origins, patterns and implications of human spontaneous mutation.
      ,
      • Rolf C.
      • Nieschlag E.
      Reproductive functions, fertility and genetic risks of ageing men.
      ).
      On the other hand, morphological changes in the testis have been shown in aging men with decreased numbers of Leydig cells, arteriosclerotic lesions, thickening and hernia-like protrusions of the basal membrane of the seminiferous tubules, and fibrotic thickening of the tunica albuginea (
      • Plas E.
      • Berger P.
      • Hermann M.
      • Pfluger H.
      Effects of aging on male fertility?.
      ). These alterations in male reproductive tract function could induce a decrease in quality and quantity of spermatozoa production. A review comparing sperm parameters in men under 30 years old and over 50 years old demonstrated a clear decline in semen volume, sperm motility, and sperm morphology with increasing age (
      • Kidd S.A.
      • Eskenazi B.
      • Wyrobek A.J.
      Effects of male age on semen quality and fertility a review of the literature.
      ).
      Once again, our results confirmed the well-established maternal age effect on the risk of failure to conceive (
      Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
      Aging and infertility in women.
      ). After controlling for paternal age, we found a clearly increased risk of failure to conceive in women after 37 years, in agreement with the literature (
      • Piette C.
      • de Mouzon J.
      • Bachelot A.
      • Spira A.
      FIVNAT (French In Vitro National)
      In-vitro fertilization influence of women’s age on pregnancy rates.
      ). The cutoff at 37 years was also confirmed by the observed rate of oocyte atresia. Investigation of the number of follicles contained in ovaries obtained during surgery or in women who died suddenly had indicated that the disappearance of ovarian follicles accelerated strongly after age of 37.5 years, at the time when the number of follicles fell below the critical figure of 25,000 (
      • Faddy M.J.
      • Gosden R.G.
      • Gougeon A.
      • Richardson S.J.
      • Nelson J.F.
      Accelerated disappearance of ovarian follicles in mid-life implications for forecasting menopause.
      ).
      The maternal age effect had been principally linked to genetic alteration of oocytes, especially abnormalities in the meiotic spindle of the oocyte, in women 37 years old and older (
      • Heffner L.J.
      Advanced maternal age—how old is too old?.
      ). More recently, the roles of cohesin and the premature separation of homologous chromatids have been put forward. Chromosome segregation during meiosis and mitosis is certainly one of the most important molecular and cellular processes that allow cells to transmit their genetic information across generations. Failure to maintain genetic stability during cell division leads to cell death or malignant transformation. Several authors have demonstrated a role of cohesin (a multi-subunit complex) in sister chromatid cohesion (
      • Wang X.
      • Dai W.
      Shugoshin, a guardian for sister chromatid segregation.
      ,
      • Michaelis C.
      • Ciosk R.
      • Nasmyth K.
      Cohesins chromosomal proteins that prevent premature separation of sister chromatids.
      ,
      • Haering C.H.
      • Nasmyth K.
      Building and breaking bridges between sister chromatids.
      ).
      In industrialized countries, a tendency to postpone childbearing has been observed, leading to parents who are more advanced in age. Furthermore, the number of older couples requesting ART procedures has also increased. It had long been known that these couples must be informed that postponing childbearing beyond the age of 35 for the woman significantly increases the risk of an adverse reproductive outcome (
      Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
      Aging and infertility in women.
      ). It now appears that this is only one aspect of the age issue. In reproduction, age must no longer be considered as the concern of the woman, but as that of the couple. Similar to maternal age over 35 years, paternal age over 40 years is a key risk factor in reproduction.

      Acknowledgment

      The FIVNAT is an association that was founded in 1986. Most French IVF centers belong to the FIVNAT association. The FIVNAT association is directed by a committee elected every 2 years. The current committee was elected in September 2004 and is composed of Philippe Arvis, M.D., Jean-Philippe Ayel, M.D., Joëlle Belaisch-Allart, M.D., Jacques Chouteau, M.D., Laurent Janny, M.D., Rachel Levy, M.D., François Mouchel, M.D., Jean-Luc Pouly (chairman), M.D., Dominique Royere, M.D., Jean-Paul Taar, M.D. The FIVNAT association is principally funded by Organon Pharmaceuticals Inc.

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