The preconception environment and sperm epigenetics

Andrology. 2020 Jul;8(4):924-942. doi: 10.1111/andr.12753. Epub 2020 Jan 21.


Background: Infertility is a common reproductive disorder, with male factor infertility accounting for approximately half of all cases. Taking a paternal perceptive, recent research has shown that sperm epigenetics, such as changes in DNA methylation, histone modification, chromatin structure, and noncoding RNA expression, can impact reproductive and offspring health. Importantly, environmental conditions during the preconception period has been demonstrated to shape sperm epigenetics.

Objectives: To provide an overview on epigenetic modifications that regulate normal gene expression and epigenetic remodeling that occurs during spermatogenesis, and to discuss the epigenetic alterations that may occur to the paternal germline as a consequence of preconception environmental conditions and exposures.

Materials and methods: We examined published literature available on databases (PubMed, Google Scholar, ScienceDirect) focusing on adult male preconception environmental exposures and sperm epigenetics in epidemiologic studies and animal models.

Results: The preconception period is a sensitive developmental window in which a variety of exposures such as toxicants, nutrition, drugs, stress, and exercise, affects sperm epigenetics.

Discussion and conclusion: Understanding the environmental legacy of the sperm epigenome during spermatogenesis will enhance our understanding of reproductive health and improve reproductive success and offspring well-being.

Keywords: DNA methylation; environmental exposure; epigenetics; fertility; histones; non-coding RNA; preconception; spermatozoa.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male*
  • Male
  • Spermatogenesis*
  • Spermatozoa*