Sperm motility varies between ejaculates from different men and from individual men. We studied normozoospermic and asthenozoospermic ejaculates after density-gradient centrifugation washing (DCG, 80/40%) and compared high- (80%) and low (40%)-motility sperm populations within the same sample. Our objective was to identify differences in endogenous metabolomes and energy metabolism in relation to sperm motility. 1H-Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (NMR) measured the endogenous metabolome of live human sperm. Incubating sperm with 13C-labelled substrates detected energy metabolism by 13C-NMR. The study examined 850 ejaculates and diagnosed asthenozoospermia in 6.1%. DGC was used to wash 160 normozoospermic (N) and 52 asthenozoospermic (A) ejaculates to recover high-motility sperm from the pellet (80N/80A) and low motility from the interface (40N/40A). 1H-NMR spectra, 45(N) and 15(A), were binned and the integrals normalised by sperm concentration. Sperm from 126(N) and 36(A) ejaculates were incubated with either 13C-glucose, 13C-fructose or 13C-pyruvate. 13C-NMR lactate and bicarbonate integrals were normalised by motile or vital sperm concentrations. 1H-NMR spectra choline integrals from the 80A population were significantly lower than the 80N, P < 0.0001. 13C-substrate conversion to lactate was significantly higher for 40A sperm than 80A sperm when normalised by motile sperm concentration. Bicarbonate integrals were sporadically observed. Sperm from asthenozoospermic ejaculates had similar glycolytic requirements to normozoospermic ones, with larger differences observed between 40 and 80% sperm populations. Higher lactate levels produced by 40% sperm may indicate that impaired sperm motility is due to dysregulated energy metabolism. The alteration in choline metabolism provides opportunities to understand the aetiology of asthenozoospermia.
How well sperm swim (motility) varies between ejaculates from different men? Normal sperm motility is beneficial to conception and some men diagnosed with infertility have low sperm motility. Sperm metabolise molecules to produce the energy required for motility. We measured concentrations of molecules within sperm and metabolism of molecules given to sperm and related these to the proportion of motile sperm. The study examined 850 sperm samples and found low motility in 6.1%. Metabolism of molecules given to sperm was similar between low and normal motility sperm samples. However, when the most motile sperm were separated from the rest, they were more efficient in metabolising these molecules to achieve motility. Lower concentrations of a molecule called choline were found in low-motility sperm samples compared to normal samples. Choline is associated with cell membranes, energy metabolism and oxidative stress, which may give opportunities to understand the causes of low motility.