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Epigenetics. 2010 Jul 1;5(5):386-91. Epub 2010 Jul 1.

The paternal hidden agenda: Epigenetic inheritance through sperm chromatin.

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  • 1Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Hyderabad, India.


Epigenetic modifications play a crucial role in developmental gene regulation. These modifications, being reversible, provide a layer of information over and above the DNA sequence, that has plasticity and leads to the generation of cell type-specific epigenomes during cellular differentiation. In almost all higher eukaryotes, the oocyte provides not only its cytoplasm, mitochondria, maternally deposited RNA and proteins but also an epigenetic component in the form of DNA and histone-modifications. During spermeiogenesis however, most of the histones are replaced by protamines, leading to a loss of the epigenetic component. The sperm is, therefore, viewed as a passive carrier of the paternal genome with a disproportionate, lower epigenetic contribution except for DNA methylation, to the next generation. A recent study overturns this view by demonstrating a locus-specific retention of histones, with specific modifications in the sperm chromatin at the promoters of developmentally important genes. This programmed retention of epigenetic marks with a role in embryonic development is suggested to offset, in some measure, the dominant maternal effect. This new finding helps in addressing the question of epigenetic transmission of environmental and 'lifestyle' experiences across generations and raises the question of 'parental conflict' at the loci that may be differentially marked.

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