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How does stress impact male reproductive health?

Parental stress and trauma are linked to a greater risk of children developing psychopathologies such as anxiety disorders. We have provided key insight into this form of father-to-son transmission by pioneered a mouse model of paternal stress and discovering increased anxiety in adult male offspring linked to changes in the epigenome of sperm. However how stress impacts on male reproductive function and sperm health remains unclear. This project will investigate the physiological and molecular changes to sperm caused by stress under varying conditions of stress - age of exposure, severity, duration.

Aims

To discover how physical, environmental and chemical stressors impact male reproductive health, which consequentially modify brain development, behaviour, stress response and metabolic health in subsequent generations.

It is estimated that 10% of the population will experience PTSD at least once in their lifetime, and animal model studies suggest that paternal traumatic stress is linked to behavioural shifts and potential learning difficulties in their offspring. The 2015 Australian Psychological Society Stress & Well-being survey reported that ~50% of us experience moderate levels of stress, with young adults are particularly vulnerable. In the current pandemic, loneliness and isolation stress have featured prominently.

Our lab developed a unique model chronic low-level stress in young adult male mice (Short, Transl Psychiatry 2016) and we discovered the emergence of anxiety behaviours in the male offspring and subsequent behavioural alterations in the grand-offspring. The F1 offspring were also hypersensitive to antidepressant treatment (Rawat, Environ Epigenet 2018). However, promisingly, shorter periods of paternal stress do not significantly alter offspring behaviours (Fennell, Sci Rep 2020)

This project provides students with foundational skills across multiple aspects of transgenerational research. Students have the opportunity to learn a range of research techniques including rodent behavioural testing, physiological studies of stress-response using blood hormone assays and gene-expression profiling of stress-regulating brain regions such as the hypothalamus and hippocampus. Examinations of male reproductive health are conducted after harvesting and assessment of sperm quality, to examine how stress alters the physical parameters of sperm maturation with implications for male subfertility.

Students have to be able to work as part of a team, and will gain experience in a range of core techniques vital for preclinical research.

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