DNA methylation-independent growth restriction and altered developmental programming in a mouse model of preconception male alcohol exposure

<p>The preconception environment is a significant modifier of dysgenesis and the development of environmentally-induced disease. To date, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) have been exclusively associated with maternal exposures, yet emerging evidence suggests male-inherited alterations in the developmental program of sperm may be relevant to the growth-restriction phenotypes of this condition. Using a mouse model of voluntary consumption, we find chronic preconception male ethanol exposure associates with fetal growth restriction, decreased placental efficiency, abnormalities in cholesterol trafficking, sex-specific alterations in the genetic pathways regulating hepatic fibrosis, and disruptions in the regulation of imprinted genes. Alterations in the DNA methylation profiles of imprinted loci have been identified in clinical studies of alcoholic sperm, suggesting the legacy of paternal drinking may transmit <i>via</i> heritable disruptions in the regulation of imprinted genes. However, the capacity of sperm-inherited changes in DNA methylation to broadly transmit environmentally-induced phenotypes remains unconfirmed. Using bisulphite mutagenesis and second-generation deep sequencing, we find no evidence to suggest that these phenotypes or any of the associated transcriptional changes are linked to alterations in the sperm-inherited DNA methylation profile. These observations are consistent with recent studies examining the male transmission of diet-induced phenotypes and emphasize the importance of epigenetic mechanisms of paternal inheritance beyond DNA methylation. This study challenges the singular importance of maternal alcohol exposures and suggests paternal alcohol abuse is a significant, yet overlooked epidemiological factor complicit in the genesis of alcohol-induced growth defects, and may provide mechanistic insight into the failure of FASD children to thrive postnatally.</p>