Australian researchers have revealed for the first time that males infected with the Toxoplasma parasite can impact their offspring’s brain health and behaviour.
Studying mice infected with the common parasite Toxoplasma, the team discovered that sperm of infected fathers carried an altered ‘epigenetic’ signature which impacted the brains of resulting offspring. Molecules in the sperm called ‘small RNA’ appeared to influence the offspring’s brain development and behaviour.
‘Intergenerational inheritance’ of similar epigenetic changes from men exposed to extreme trauma has been well documented. This latest research, published in Cell Reports, has raised the question of whether Toxoplasma infections — or even possibly other infections — in men before conception could impact the health of subsequent generations.
The research was led by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researchers Dr Shiraz Tyebji and Associate Professor Chris Tonkin, in collaboration with Professor Anthony Hannan at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health