Paternal Exercise Improves Glucose Metabolism in Adult Offspring

Diabetes. 2018 Dec;67(12):2530-2540. doi: 10.2337/db18-0667. Epub 2018 Oct 21.


Poor paternal diet has emerged as a risk factor for metabolic disease in offspring, and alterations in sperm may be a major mechanism mediating these detrimental effects of diet. Although exercise in the general population is known to improve health, the effects of paternal exercise on sperm and offspring metabolic health are largely unknown. Here, we studied 7-week-old C57BL/6 male mice fed a chow or high-fat diet and housed either in static cages (sedentary) or cages with attached running wheels (exercise trained). After 3 weeks, one cohort of males was sacrificed and cauda sperm obtained, while the other cohort was bred with chow-fed sedentary C57BL/6 females. Offspring were chow fed, sedentary, and studied during the first year of life. We found that high-fat feeding of sires impairs glucose tolerance and increases the percentage of fat mass in both male and female offspring at 52 weeks of age. Strikingly, paternal exercise suppresses the effects of paternal high-fat diet on offspring, reversing the observed impairment in glucose tolerance, percentage of fat mass, and glucose uptake in skeletal muscles of the offspring. These changes in offspring phenotype are accompanied by changes in sperm physiology, as, for example, high-fat feeding results in decreased sperm motility, an effect normalized in males subject to exercise training. Deep sequencing of sperm reveals pronounced effects of exercise training on multiple classes of small RNAs, as multiple changes to the sperm RNA payload observed in animals consuming a high-fat diet are suppressed by exercise training. Thus, voluntary exercise training of male mice results in pronounced improvements in the metabolic health of adult male and female offspring. We provide the first in-depth analysis of small RNAs in sperm from exercise-trained males, revealing a marked change in the levels of multiple small RNAs with the potential to alter phenotypes in the next generation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / physiology
  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism / physiology*
  • Diet, High-Fat
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Nuclear Proteins / physiology
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Paternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism*
  • Sex Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • sperm basic nuclear proteins