Epigenetic inheritance of acquired traits through sperm RNAs and sperm RNA modifications

Nat Rev Genet. 2016 Dec;17(12):733-743. doi: 10.1038/nrg.2016.106. Epub 2016 Oct 3.


Once deemed heretical, emerging evidence now supports the notion that the inheritance of acquired characteristics can occur through ancestral exposures or experiences and that certain paternally acquired traits can be 'memorized' in the sperm as epigenetic information. The search for epigenetic factors in mammalian sperm that transmit acquired phenotypes has recently focused on RNAs and, more recently, RNA modifications. Here, we review insights that have been gained from studying sperm RNAs and RNA modifications, and their roles in influencing offspring phenotypes. We discuss the possible mechanisms by which sperm become acquisitive following environmental-somatic-germline interactions, and how they transmit paternally acquired phenotypes by shaping early embryonic development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Inheritance Patterns / genetics*
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • RNA / chemistry*
  • RNA / genetics*
  • Spermatozoa / classification*


  • RNA