A stressed-out and traumatized father can leave scars in his children. New research suggests this happens because sperm “learn” paternal experiences via a mysterious mode of intercellular communication in which small blebs break off one cell and fuse with another.
Carrying proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, these particles ejected from a cell act like a postal system that extends to all parts of the body, releasing little packages known as extracellular vesicles. Their contents seem carefully chosen. “The cargo inside the vesicle determines not just where it came from but where it’s going and what it’s doing when it gets there,” says Tracy Bale, a neurobiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Preliminary research Bale and others, announced this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, shows how extracellular vesicles can regulate brain circuits and help diagnose neurodegenerative diseases—in addition to altering sperm to disrupt the brain health of resulting offspring.