A stressed-out and traumatized father can leave scars in his children. New research suggests this happens because sperm “learn” paternal experiences via a mysterious mode of intercellular communication in which small blebs break off one cell and fuse with another.
Carrying proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, these particles ejected from a cell act like a postal system that extends to all parts of the body, releasing little packages known as extracellular vesicles.
[E]xtracellular vesicles can regulate brain circuits and help diagnose neurodegenerative diseases—in addition to altering sperm to disrupt the brain health of resulting offspring.
Striking evidence that harsh conditions affect a man’s children came from crop failures and war ravaging Europe more than a century ago. In those unplanned human experiments, prolonged famine appeared to set off a host of health changes in future generations, including higher cholesterol levels and increased rates of obesity and diabetes.
[By] analyzing sperm from [a] group of healthy young men, the researchers plan to build a basic understanding of molecular changes linked with mild stresses such as taking final exams. In the future [neurobiologist Tracy] Bale and colleagues hope to compare these baseline fluctuations with changes induced by more prolonged life stressors such as post-traumatic stress disorder or neurological diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.
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