Epigenetics in male reproduction: effect of paternal diet on sperm quality and offspring health

Nat Rev Urol. 2016 Oct;13(10):584-95. doi: 10.1038/nrurol.2016.157. Epub 2016 Aug 31.


Epigenetic inheritance and its underlying molecular mechanisms are among the most intriguing areas of current biological and medical research. To date, studies have shown that both female and male germline development follow distinct paths of epigenetic events and both oocyte and sperm possess their own unique epigenomes. Fertilizing male and female germ cells deliver not only their haploid genomes but also their epigenomes, which contain the code for preimplantation and postimplantation reprogramming and embryonal development. For example, in spermatozoa, DNA methylation profile, DNA-associated proteins, protamine 1:protamine 2 ratio, nucleosome distribution pattern, histone modifications and other properties make up a unique epigenetic landscape. However, epigenetic factors and mechanisms possess certain plasticity and are affected by environmental conditions. Paternal and maternal lifestyle, including physical activity, nutrition and exposure to hazardous substances, can alter the epigenome and, moreover, can affect the health of their children. In male reproductive health, data are emerging on epigenetically mediated effects of a man's diet on sperm quality, for example through phytochemicals, minerals and vitamins, and nutritional support for subfertile men is already being used. In addition, studies in animal models and human epidemiological data point toward a transgenerational effect of the paternally contributed sperm epigenome on offspring health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Fertility*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Spermatozoa*