A new research in mice has found that a father’s stress may affect the brain development of his offspring, by changing the father’s sperm.
The findings, delivered on Friday at the ongoing four-day 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science at Austin, Texas, provide a much better understanding of the key role that fathers play in the brain development of offspring.
Scientists have known that a mother’s environment during pregnancy can cause damages to her offspring, partially because this environment affects the expression of certain genes, known as epigenetics.
But the researchers, led by neuroscientist Tracy Bale at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, show that a father’s stress can also affect offspring development, by altering important aspects of his sperm.
Bale and her colleagues previously found that the father’s sperm showed changes in genetic material known as microRNA under stress. MicroRNA are important because they play a key role in which genes become functional proteins.
Now, they have unraveled new details about these microRNA changes. In the male reproductive tract, the caput epididymis, the structure where sperm matures, releases tiny vesicles packed with microRNA that can fuse with sperm. The caput epididymis responds to the father’s stress by altering the content of these vesicles.
This suggests that even mild environmental challenges can have a significant impact on the development and potentially the health of future offspring.