Paternal effects in a wild-type zebrafish implicate a role of sperm-derived small RNAs
Heath, Paul R.
Watt, Penelope J.
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While the importance of maternal effects has long been appreciated, a growing body of evidence now points to the paternal environment having an important influence on offspring phenotype. Indeed, research on rodent models suggests that paternal stress leaves an imprint on the behaviour and physiology of offspring via nonge netic information carried in the spermatozoa; however, fish have been understudied with regard to these sperm-mediated effects. Here, we investigated whether the ze brafish was subjected to heritable influences of paternal stress by exposing males to stressors (conspecific-derived alarm cue, chasing and bright light) before mating and assessing the behavioural and endocrine responses of their offspring, including their behavioural response to conspecific-derived alarm cue. We found that after males are exposed to stress, their larval offspring show weakened responses to stressors. Small RNA sequencing subsequently revealed that the levels of several small noncoding RNAs, including microRNAs, PIWI-interacting RNAs and tRNA-derived small RNAs, were altered in the spermatozoa of stressed fathers, suggesting that stress-induced alterations to the spermatozoal RNA landscape may contribute to shaping offspring phenotype. The work demonstrates that paternal stress should not be overlooked as a source of phenotypic variation and that spermatozoal small RNAs may be important intergenerational messengers in fish.