Petropoulos S, Matthews SG, Szyf M
Synthetic glucocorticoids (sGCs) are commonly prescribed for the management of inflammatory and endocrine disorders. However, nothing is known regarding the effects of sGC on adult germline methylome and whether these effects can be transmitted to the next generation. We hypothesized that administration of sGC to adult male mice alters DNA methylation in mature sperm and modifies the transcription and methylation of steroid receptors in male F1 offspring. Adult C57BL/6 males (n = 10/group) were injected on five consecutive days with 1 mg/kg sGC (i.e., dexamethasone) or vehicle and euthanized 35 or 60 days after initial treatment or bred with control females (60 days postinitial treatment; n = 5/group). A significant increase in global non-CpG methylation was observed in F0 sperm 60 days following sGC treatment. In the hippocampus and kidney of Postnatal Day 50 (PND50) and PND240 male offspring derived from fathers exposed to sGC, significant differences in mineralocorticoid receptor (Nr3c2; Mr), estrogen alpha receptor (Nr3a1; Ers1), and glucocorticoid receptor (Nr3c1; Gr) expression were observed. Furthermore, significant demethylation in regulatory regions of Mr, Gr, and Esr1 was observed in the PND50 kidney derived from fathers exposed to sGC. This is the first demonstration that paternal pharmacological exposure to sGC can alter the expression and DNA methylation of nuclear steroid receptors in brain and somatic tissues of offspring. These findings provide proof of principle that adult male exposure to sGC can affect DNA methylation and gene expression in offspring, indicating the possibility that adult experiences that evoke increases in endogenous glucocorticoid (i.e., stress) might have similar effects.