Exercise Benefits Gets Passed On Through Epigenetics

Male mice that passed on more of two specific microRNAs — miRNA212 and miRNA132 — in the sperm had offspring with higher cognitive skills. (Photo: Pixabay)

A study in mice has found that regular exercise of both body and mind could benefit future offspring’s brain function. 

In the study, published in Cell Reports, scientists have found that if male mice did more exercise, their offspring’s hippocampus — the part of the brain involved in learning — has neurons that were better at communicating with each other.

In addition, mental exercise was important, with those living in more stimulating environments passing on the benefit.

Responsible for the effect was microRNA molecules in the sperm. Male mice that passed on more of two specific microRNAs — miRNA212 and miRNA132 — in the sperm had offspring with higher cognitive skills. These microRNAs accounted for some of the inheritance for exercise benefits as well, but not all. 

 

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“For the first time, our work specifically links an epigenetic phenomenon to certain microRNAs,” said author of the study, Prof. André Fischer at German Center for Neurogenerative Diseases. “Presumably, they modify brain development in a very subtle manner improving the connection of neurons. This results in a cognitive advantage for the offspring.”

Dr. John Houseley, prinicpal investigator in epigenetics at the Babraham Institute and Prof. Marcus Pembrey of GOSH in London both welcomes the research, according to the BBC.  

Dr. Houseley called the study’s findings “intuitive”, whilst Prof. Pembrey suggests this type of epigenetic inheritance could work for a variety of traits: “If this system of the offspring inheriting a head start applies to humans, it might help to explain the so-called Flynn effect where the population IQ in industrial societies has risen every decade for the last century.” 

 

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Further research is necessary to determine whether benefits being passed this way in humans.

“It seems unlikely that these particular RNA molecules will also communicate environmental information across generations in humans,” Dr. Houseley said. “However, understanding such inheritance mechanisms in mice suggests ways in which environmental information may be passed to our own children.”