Table of Contents
Advances in Biology
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 179701, 13 pages
Review Article

Sperm RNA as a Mediator of Genomic Plasticity

Leeds Institute of Genetics and Health Therapeutics, University of Leeds, Clarendon Way, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9JT, UK

Received 2 July 2014; Revised 8 September 2014; Accepted 9 September 2014; Published 14 October 2014

Academic Editor: Angelo Veronese

Copyright © 2014 David Miller. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Sperm RNA has been linked recently to trans-generational, non-Mendelian patterns of inheritance. Originally dismissed as “residual” to spermatogenesis, some sperm RNA may have postfertilization functions including the transmission of acquired characteristics. Sperm RNA may help explain how trans-generational effects are transmitted and it may also have implications for assisted reproductive technologies (ART) where sperm are subjected to considerable, ex vivo manual handling. The presence of sperm RNA was originally a controversial topic because nuclear gene expression is switched off in the mature mammalian spermatozoon. With the recent application of next generation sequencing (NGS), an unexpectedly rich and complex repertoire of RNAs has been revealed in the sperm of several species that makes its residual presence counterintuitive. What follows is a personal survey of the science behind our understanding of sperm RNA and its functional significance based on experimental observations from my laboratory as well as many others who have contributed to the field over the years and are continuing to contribute today. The narrative begins with a historical perspective and ends with some educated speculation on where research into sperm RNA is likely to lead us in the next 10 years or so.