Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance
Epigenetic information refers to heritable changes in gene expression that occur without modifications at the DNA sequence level. These changes are orchestrated by different epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation, posttranslational modifications of histones, and the presence of noncoding RNAs. Epigenetic information regulates chromatin structure to confer cell-specific gene expression.
The sperm epigenome is the result of three periods of global resetting during men’s life. Germ cell epigenome reprogramming is designed to allow cell totipotency and to prevent the transmission of epimutations via spermatozoa. At the end of these reprogramming events, the sperm epigenome has a very specific epigenetic pattern that is a footprint of past reprogramming events and has an influence on embryo development.
Several data demonstrate that not all regions of the epigenome are erased during the reprogramming periods, suggesting the transmission of epigenetic information from fathers to offspring via spermatozoa. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly clear that the sperm epigenome is sensitive to environmental factors during the process of gamete differentiation, suggesting the plasticity of the sperm epigenetic signature according to the circumstances of the individual’s life.
In this chapter, we provided strong evidences about the association between variations of the sperm epigenome and the exposure to environmental factors. Moreover, we will present data about how epigenetic mechanisms are candidates for transferring paternal environmental information to offspring.
KeywordsSpermatozoa Epigenome Chromatin Transgenerational inheritance DNA methylation Noncoding RNA
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