May 3, 2017
JAMA. Published online May 3, 2017. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.1566
For decades, prenatal advice has mainly focused on mothers. Leading up to and during pregnancy, women are told to take folic acid supplements, stop drinking and smoking, avoid high-mercury fish, and maintain healthful weight gain, among other wisdom. That advice is prescribed by physicians and public health experts to promote healthy pregnancies, normal fetal development, and long-term offspring health. A father’s behavior can also influence the health of a pregnancy, by exposing his partner to secondhand smoke or domestic violence, for example. But there’s a growing belief among scientists that a man’s behaviors and environmental exposures may also shape his descendants’ development and future health before sperm meets egg.
Researchers now understand that sperm contains a memory of a male’s life experiences, ranging from his nutritional status to his exposure to toxic chemicals, said Michael Skinner, PhD, a professor in the school of biological sciences at Washington State University. This information is captured in alterations to the epigenome, the suite of molecular on-off switches that regulate gene expression.