Compared with the normospermic domestic cat, sperm metabolic function is compromised in the teratospermic cat and cheetah, but the pathway(s) involved in this deficiency are unknown. Glycolysis is essential for sperm motility, yet it appears to function normally in spermatozoa of either species regardless of structural morphology. We conducted a comparative study to further understand the mechanisms of energy production in felid spermatozoa, with the hypothesis that oxidative phosphorylation is required for normal sperm function and is impaired in teratospermic ejaculates. Electroejaculates from both species were stained with MitoTracker to quantify mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) or were incubated to assess changes in sperm function (motility, acrosomal integrity, and lactate production) after mitochondrial inhibition with myxothiazol. Sperm midpiece dimensions also were quantified. Sperm mitochondrial fluorescence (directly proportional to MMP) was ∼95% lower in the cheetah compared with the normospermic and teratospermic cat, despite the cheetah having a 10% longer midpiece. In both species, MMP was increased 5-fold in spermatozoa with retained cytoplasm compared with structurally normal cells. Inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation impaired sperm function in both species, but a 100-fold higher inhibitor concentration was required in the cat compared with the cheetah. Collectively, findings revealed that oxidative phosphorylation was required for sperm function in the domestic cat and cheetah. This pathway of energy production appeared markedly less active in the cheetah, indicating a species-specific vulnerability to mitochondrial dysfunction. The unexpected, cross-species linkage between retained cytoplasmic droplets and elevated MMP may reflect increased concentrations of metabolic enzymes or substrates in these structures.
Oxidative metabolism is required to maintain felid sperm motility and acrosomal integrity, but mitochondrial membrane potential is substantially lower in cheetah compared to domestic cat ejaculate.