Currently, spermiogram analysis is the most relevant method used to clarify the potential infertility of a couple. However, in some cases, the reasons for infertility remain obscure. Smoking is among the factors that have been described to adversely affect male fertility. Smoking increases oxidative stress and thus promotes various pathological processes. Comparative studies, particularly those on metabolomic changes in sperm and seminal plasma caused by smoking, have not yet been published. Thus, the present pilot study aimed at the mass spectrometric characterization of the metabolomes of specimens from both smoking and nonsmoking subjects and the comparison of the evaluated data in terms of sperm apoptosis and spermiogram parameters. The results provided evidence that the conventional spermiogram is not altered in smokers compared to nonsmokers. However, a more careful investigation of sperm cells by metabolomic profiling reveals profound effects of smoking on sperm: first, nitrogen oxide synthase, a marker of oxidative stress, is activated. Second, the uptake of fatty acids into sperm mitochondria is reduced, leading to an impaired energy supply. Third, phenylalanine hydroxylation and tryptophan degradation, which are both indications of altered tetrahydrobiopterin biosynthesis, are reduced. Moreover, flow cytometry approaches indicated increased sperm caspase-3 activity, a sign of apoptosis. The present study clearly shows the negative effects of smoking on semen quality. Especially for idiopathic cases, metabolomic profiling can help to shed light on male subfertility or infertility.
The combination of spermiogram parameters with metabolomic profiling reveals oxidative stress markers, reduced mitochondrial fatty acid uptake and altered tetrahydrobiopterin biosynthesis, indicating negative effects of smoking on semen quality.