Having been debated for many years, the presence and role of spermatozoal RNAs is resolving, and their contribution to development is now appreciated. Data from different species continue show that sperm contain a complex suite of coding and noncoding RNAs that play a role in an individual's life course. Mature sperm RNAs provide a retrospective of spermatogenesis, with their presence and abundance reflecting sperm maturation, fertility potential, and the paternal contribution to the developmental path the offspring may follow.
Sperm RNAs delivered upon fertilization provide some of the initial contacts with the oocyte, directly confront the maternal with the paternal contribution as a prelude to genome consolidation. Following syngamy, early embryo development may in part be modulated by paternal RNAs that can include epidydimal passengers. This provides a direct path to relay an experience and then initiate a paternal response to the environment to the oocyte and beyond. Their epigenetic impact is likely felt prior to embryonic genome activation when the population of sperm delivered transcripts markedly changes. Here, we review the insights gained from sperm RNAs over the years, the subtypes, and the caveats of the RNAs described.We discuss the role of sperm RNAs in fertilization and embryo development, and their possible mechanism(s) influencing offspring phenotype. Approaches to meet the future challenges as the study of sperm RNAs continues, include, elucidating the potential mechanisms underlying how paternal allostatic load, the constant adaptation of health to external conditions, may be relayed by sperm RNAs to affect future generations.
A historical perspective of the discovery and delivery of sperm RNAs that initiate development is presented. How these RNAs provide a record of, and components essential to fertility, embryo development, and offspring's phenotype are discussed.