Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are a unique mode of intercellular communication capable of incredible specificity in transmitting signals involved in cellular function, including germ cell maturation. Spermatogenesis occurs in the testes, behind a protective barrier to ensure safeguarding of germline DNA from environmental insults. Following DNA compaction, further sperm maturation occurs in the epididymis. Here, we report reproductive tract EVs transmit information regarding stress in the paternal environment to sperm, potentially altering fetal development. Using intracytoplasmic sperm injection, we found that sperm incubated with EVs collected from stress-treated epididymal epithelial cells produced offspring with altered neurodevelopment and adult stress reactivity. Proteomic and transcriptomic assessment of these EVs showed dramatic changes in protein and miRNA content long after stress treatment had ended, supporting a lasting programmatic change in response to chronic stress. Thus, EVs as a normal process in sperm maturation, can also perform roles in intergenerational transmission of paternal environmental experience.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors declare no competing interest.
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