Involvement of circulating factors in the transmission of paternal experiences through the germline

EMBO J. 2020 Dec 1;39(23):e104579. doi: 10.15252/embj.2020104579. Epub 2020 Oct 9.


Environmental factors can change phenotypes in exposed individuals and offspring and involve the germline, likely via biological signals in the periphery that communicate with germ cells. Here, using a mouse model of paternal exposure to traumatic stress, we identify circulating factors involving peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) pathways in the effects of exposure to the germline. We show that exposure alters metabolic functions and pathways, particularly lipid-derived metabolites, in exposed fathers and their offspring. We collected data in a human cohort exposed to childhood trauma and observed similar metabolic alterations in circulation, suggesting conserved effects. Chronic injection of serum from trauma-exposed males into controls recapitulates metabolic phenotypes in the offspring. We identify lipid-activated nuclear receptors PPARs as potential mediators of the effects from father to offspring. Pharmacological PPAR activation in vivo reproduces metabolic dysfunctions in the offspring and grand-offspring of injected males and affects the sperm transcriptome in fathers and sons. In germ-like cells in vitro, both serum and PPAR agonist induce PPAR activation. Together, these results highlight the role of circulating factors as potential communication vectors between the periphery and the germline.

Keywords: PPAR; blood serum; paternal experiences; sperm; transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Epigenomics
  • Fathers
  • Germ Cells / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Paternal Exposure*
  • Phenotype
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Spermatozoa
  • Transcriptome
  • Wounds and Injuries

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE154369