Mendelian laws provide the universal founding paradigm for the mechanism of genetic inheritance through which characters are segregated and assorted. In recent years, however, parallel with the rapid growth of epigenetic studies, cases of inheritance deviating from Mendelian patterns have emerged. Growing studies underscore phenotypic variations and increased risk of pathologies that are transgenerationally inherited in a non-Mendelian fashion in the absence of any classically identifiable mutation or predisposing genetic lesion in the genome of individuals who develop the disease. Non-Mendelian inheritance is most often transmitted through the germline in consequence of primary events occurring in somatic cells, implying soma-to-germline transmission of information. While studies of sperm cells suggest that epigenetic variations can potentially underlie phenotypic alterations across generations, no instance of transmission of DNA- or RNA-mediated information from somatic to germ cells has been reported as yet.
To address these issues, researchers from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy have now generated a mouse model xenografted with human melanoma cells stably expressing EGFP-encoding plasmid. They find that EGFP RNA is released from the xenografted human cells into the bloodstream and eventually in spermatozoa of the mice. Tumor-released EGFP RNA is associated with an extracellular fraction processed for exosome purification and expressing exosomal markers, in all steps of the process, from the xenografted cancer cells to the spermatozoa of the recipient animals, strongly suggesting that exosomes are the carriers of a flow of information from somatic cells to gametes. Together, these results indicate that somatic RNA is transferred to sperm cells, which can therefore act as the final recipients of somatic cell-derived information.