Obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 yr. The association between metabolic disorders in offspring of obese mothers with diabetes has long been known; however, a growing body of research indicates that fathers play a significant role through presently unknown mechanisms. Recent observations have shown that changes in paternal diet may result in transgenerational inheritance of the insulin-resistant phenotype. Although diet-induced epigenetic reprogramming via paternal lineage has recently received much attention in the literature, the effect of paternal physical activity on offspring metabolism has not been adequately addressed. In the current study, we investigated the effects of long-term voluntary wheel-running in C57BL/6J male mice on their offspring's predisposition to insulin resistance. Our observations revealed that fathers subjected to wheel-running for 12 wk produced offspring that were more susceptible to the adverse effects of a high-fat diet, manifested in increased body weight and adiposity, impaired glucose tolerance, and elevated insulin levels. Long-term paternal exercise also altered expression of several metabolic genes, including Ogt, Oga, Pdk4, H19, Glut4, and Ptpn1, in offspring skeletal muscle. Finally, prolonged exercise affected gene methylation patterns and micro-RNA content in the sperm of fathers, providing a potential mechanism for the transgenerational inheritance. These findings suggest that paternal exercise produces offspring with a thrifty phenotype, potentially via miRNA-induced modification of sperm.
Keywords: epigenetics; metabolic phenotype; miRNA; spermatozoal; transgenerational.