Cheetahs and certain other felids consistently ejaculate high proportions (≥60%) of malformed spermatozoa, a condition known as teratospermia, which is prevalent in humans. Even seemingly normal spermatozoa from domestic cat teratospermic ejaculates have reduced fertilizing capacity. To understand the role of sperm metabolism in this phenomenon, we conducted a comparative study in the normospermic domestic cat versus the teratospermic cat and cheetah with the general hypothesis that sperm metabolic function is impaired in males producing predominantly pleiomorphic spermatozoa. Washed ejaculates were incubated in chemically defined medium containing glucose and pyruvate. Uptake of glucose and pyruvate and production of lactate were assessed using enzyme-linked fluorescence assays. Spermatozoa from domestic cats and cheetahs exhibited similar metabolic profiles, with minimal glucose metabolism and approximately equimolar rates of pyruvate uptake and lactate production. Compared to normospermic counterparts, pyruvate and lactate metabolism were reduced in teratospermic cat and cheetah ejaculates, even when controlling for sperm motility. Rates of pyruvate and lactate (but not glucose) metabolism were correlated positively with sperm motility, acrosomal integrity, and normal morphology. Collectively, our findings reveal that pyruvate uptake and lactate production are reliable, quantitative indicators of sperm quality in these two felid species and that metabolic function is impaired in teratospermic ejaculates. Furthermore, patterns of substrate utilization are conserved between these species, including the unexpected lack of exogenous glucose metabolism. Because glycolysis is required to support sperm motility and capacitation in certain other mammals (including dogs), the activity of this pathway in felid spermatozoa is a target for future investigation.
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Vol. 83 • No. 5