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Asian J Androl. 2011 Jan;13(1):76-80. doi: 10.1038/aja.2010.61. Epub 2010 Oct 25.

The paternal epigenome and embryogenesis: poising mechanisms for development.

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  • 1Andrology and IVF Laboratories, Department of Surgery, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA.


The scope of paternal contributions during early embryonic development has long been considered limited. Dramatic changes in chromatin structure throughout spermatogenesis have been thought to leave the sperm void of complex layers of epigenetic regulation over the DNA blueprint, thus leaving the balance of that regulation to the oocyte. However, recent work in the fields of epigenetics and male factor infertility has placed this long-held, and now controversial dogma, in a new light. Elegant studies investigating chromatin and epigenetic modifications in the developing sperm cell have provided new insights that may establish a more critical role for the paternal epigenome in the developing embryo. DNA methylation, histone tail modifications, targeted histone retention and protamine incorporation into the chromatin have great influence in the developing sperm cell. Perturbations in the establishment and/or maintenance of any of these epigenetic marks have been demonstrated to affect fertility status, ranging in severity from mild to catastrophic. Sperm require this myriad of chromatin structural changes not only to serve a protective role to DNA throughout spermatogenesis and future delivery to the egg, but also, it appears, to contribute to the developmental program of the future embryo. This review will focus on our current understanding of the epigenetics of sperm. We will discuss sperm-specific chromatin modifications that result in genes essential to development being poised for activation early in embryonic development, the disruption of which may result in reduced fecundity.

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