Glycolysis and sperm motility: does a spoonful of sugar help the flagellum go round?

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Abstract

It is doubtful that diffusion can deliver sufficient ATP from the mitochondria to sustain activity at the distal end of the sperm flagellum. Glycolytic enzymes bound to the fibrous sheath could provide energy along the flagellum at the point it is required. An obligatory role for glycolysis is supported by the lack of progressive motility in sperm from mice where the gene for sperm-specific glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDHs) had been ‘knocked out’. Here, I review some evidence against this idea. First, pure diffusion from the mitochondrion is likely to be adequate in species with smaller sperm, and it is possible that rapid ATP delivery required in larger sperm could be achieved by an adenylate kinase shuttle. Second, experience with α-chlorohydrin demonstrates that sperm can remain motile with normal ATP concentrations despite inhibition of GAPDHs; adverse effects only occur if glucose is added and high levels of glycolytic intermediates accumulate. These observations undermine the GAPDHs knockout mouse as evidence for an essential role of local glycolysis. Third, sperm from many species can remain motile for long periods in sugar-free media and excepting dog sperm, evidence that gluconeogenesis is a possible explanation, is weak. In most species, it is unlikely that local glycolysis is the only way that ATP can be supplied to the distal flagellum.

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