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Offspring affected by sperm small RNAs
Paternal dietary conditions in mammals influence the metabolic phenotypes of offspring. Although prior work suggests the involvement of epigenetic pathways, the mechanisms remains unclear. Two studies now show that altered paternal diet affects the level of small RNAs in mouse sperm. Chen et al. injected sperm transfer RNA (tRNA) fragments from males that had been kept on a high-fat diet into normal oocytes. The progeny displayed metabolic disorders and concomitant alteration of genes in metabolic pathways. Sharma et al. observed the biogenesis and function of small tRNA-derived fragments during sperm maturation. Further understanding of the mechanisms by which progeny are affected by parental exposure may affect human diseases such as diet-induced metabolic disorders.
Increasing evidence indicates that metabolic disorders in offspring can result from the father’s diet, but the mechanism remains unclear. In a paternal mouse model given a high-fat diet (HFD), we showed that a subset of sperm transfer RNA–derived small RNAs (tsRNAs), mainly from 5′ transfer RNA halves and ranging in size from 30 to 34 nucleotides, exhibited changes in expression profiles and RNA modifications. Injection of sperm tsRNA fractions from HFD males into normal zygotes generated metabolic disorders in the F1 offspring and altered gene expression of metabolic pathways in early embryos and islets of F1 offspring, which was unrelated to DNA methylation at CpG-enriched regions. Hence, sperm tsRNAs represent a paternal epigenetic factor that may mediate intergenerational inheritance of diet-induced metabolic disorders.