Energy sources that can be metabolized to yield ATP are essential for normal sperm functions such as motility. Two major monosaccharides, sorbitol and fructose, are present in semen. Furthermore, sorbitol dehydrogenase (SORD) can convert sorbitol to fructose, which can then be metabolized via the glycolytic pathway in sperm to make ATP. Here we characterize Sord mRNA and SORD expression during mouse spermatogenesis and examine the ability of sorbitol to support epididymal sperm motility and tyrosine phosphorylation. Sord mRNA levels increased during the course of spermatogenic differentiation. SORD protein, however, was first detected at the condensing spermatid stage. By indirect immunofluorescence, SORD was present along the length of the flagella of caudal epididymal sperm. Furthermore, immunoelectron microscopy showed that SORD was associated with mitochondria and the plasma membranes of sperm. Sperm incubated with sorbitol maintained motility, indicating that sorbitol was utilized as an energy source. Sorbitol, as well as glucose and fructose, were not essential to induce hyperactive motility. Protein tyrosine phosphorylation increased in a similar manner when sorbitol was substituted for glucose in the incubation medium used for sperm capacitation. These results indicate that sorbitol can serve as an alternative energy source for sperm motility and protein tyrosine phosphorylation.
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Vol. 80 • No. 1