Nav: Home

Does physical activity influence the health of future offspring?

April 10, 2018

Physical and mental exercise is not only beneficial for your own brain, but can also affect the learning ability of future offspring - at least in mice. This particular form of inheritance is mediated by certain RNA molecules that influence gene activity. These molecules accumulate in both the brain and germ cells following physical and mental activity. Prof. André Fischer and colleagues from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Goettingen and Munich and the University Medical Center Goettingen (UMG) report these findings in the journal "Cell Reports".

Acquired skills do not modify the DNA sequence and therefore cannot be passed on to the offspring - this belief was prevalent in the field of genetics for a very long time. However, in recent years, scientists have found some circumstances that refute this principle. A poor diet, for example, increases the risk of disease - not only our own risk, but also that of our children. Lifestyle factors such as stress and trauma can also influence the next generation. Scientists call this phenomenon "epigenetic" inheritance, as it is not associated with changes in DNA sequence.

Inherited learning skills

Prof. André Fischer and colleagues investigated the inheritance of another acquired capacity: the ability for learning. It is well-known that physical and mental activity improves learning ability and reduces the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer's. In mice, the scientists showed that learning ability was passed onto the next generation by epigenetic inheritance. When Fischer and co-workers exposed mice to a stimulating environment in which they had plenty of exercise, their offspring also benefited: compared to the mice of a control group, they achieved better results in tests that evaluate learning ability. These rodents were also found to have improved synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, a region of the brain important for learning. "Synaptic plasticity" is a measure of how well nerve cells communicate with each other. It thus forms the cellular basis for learning.

Next, the scientists investigated which mechanism could be responsible. For this, they focused on epigenetic inheritance by fathers and looked for its material basis in sperm. Sperm contains paternal DNA and also RNA molecules. The scientists therefore conducted experiments to find out about the role played by these RNA molecules in the inheritance of learning skills. For this, they extracted RNA from the sperm of mice that were physically and mentally active. These extracts were injected into fertilized egg cells. The mice that developed were also found to have enhanced synaptic plasticity and learning ability. Physical and mental activity therefore had a positive effect on the cognitive skills of the offspring. This effect was mediated through the RNA in the sperm.

Tracking down the responsible RNA

In further experiments involving injections of RNA extracts, the scientists were able to more closely identify the RNA molecules responsible for epigenetic inheritance: They showed that two so-called microRNA molecules - miRNA212 and miRNA132 - could account for at least some of the inherited learning capacity. microRNAs are control molecules that influence gene activity. "For the first time, our work specifically links an epigenetic phenomenon to certain microRNAs", says Fisher, a senior scientist at the DZNE Goettingen and the UMG.

The researchers also found that miRNA212 and miRNA132 accumulated in the brains and sperm of mice after physical and mental activity. It was previously known that these molecules stimulate the formation of synapses in the brain, thus improving learning ability. Through the sperm, they are transmitted to the next generation. "Presumably, they modify brain development in a very subtle manner improving the connection of neurons. This results in a cognitive advantage for the offspring," says Fischer.

It is known that physical activity and cognitive training also improve learning ability in humans. However, it is not so easy to study in humans whether learning ability can be inherited epigenetically. Nevertheless, the results obtained by Fischer and colleagues may point towards answers to this question. The researchers now intend to find out whether miRNA212 and miRNA132 also accumulate in human sperm after phases of physical and mental activity.
-end-
Original publication

"RNA-dependent intergenerational inheritance of enhanced synaptic plasticity after environmental enrichment", Eva Benito, Cemil Kerimoglu et al., Cell Reports (2018), DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.03.059.

DZNE - German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Related Physical Activity Articles:

The benefits of physical activity for older adults
New findings published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports reveal how physically active older adults benefit from reduced risks of early death, breast and prostate cancer, fractures, recurrent falls, functional limitations, cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and depression.
Physical activity may protect against new episodes of depression
Increased levels of physical activity can significantly reduce the odds of depression, even among people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.
Is physical activity always good for the heart?
Physical activity is thought to be our greatest ally in the fight against cardiovascular disease.
Physical activity in lessons improves students' attainment
Students who take part in physical exercises like star jumps or running on the spot during school lessons do better in tests than peers who stick to sedentary learning, according to a UCL-led study.
Physical activity may attenuate menopause-associated atherogenic changes
Leisure-time physical activity is associated with a healthier blood lipid profile in menopausal women, but it doesn't seem to entirely offset the unfavorable lipid profile changes associated with the menopausal transition.
Are US adults meeting physical activity guidelines?
The proportion of US adults adhering to the 'Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans' from the US Department of Health and Human Services didn't significantly improve between 2007 and 2016 but time spent sitting increased.
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds do less vigorous physical activity
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds and certain ethnic minority backgrounds, including from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds, have lower levels of vigorous physical activity, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.
Light, physical activity reduces brain aging
Incremental physical activity, even at light intensity, is associated with larger brain volume and healthy brain aging.
Decline in physical activity often starts as early as age 7
Overall physical activity starts to decline already around the age of school entry.
Is it ever too late for adults to benefit from physical activity?
It may never be too late for adults to become physically active and enjoy some health benefits.
More Physical Activity News and Physical Activity Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.