Uncovering sperm metabolome to discover biomarkers for bull fertility

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BMC Genomics


Background: Subfertility decreases the efficiency of the cattle industry because artificial insemination employs spermatozoa from a single bull to inseminate thousands of cows. Variation in bull fertility has been demonstrated even among those animals exhibiting normal sperm numbers, motility, and morphology. Despite advances in research, molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the causes of low fertility in some bulls have not been fully elucidated. In this study, we investigated the metabolic profile of bull spermatozoa using non-targeted metabolomics. Statistical analysis and bioinformatic tools were employed to evaluate the metabolic profiles high and low fertility groups. Metabolic pathways associated with the sperm metabolome were also reported. Results: A total of 22 distinct metabolites were detected in spermatozoa from bulls with high fertility (HF) or low fertility (LF) phenotype. The major metabolite classes of bovine sperm were organic acids/derivatives and fatty acids/conjugates. We demonstrated that the abundance ratios of five sperm metabolites were statistically different between HF and LF groups including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), carbamate, benzoic acid, lactic acid, and palmitic acid. Metabolites with different abundances in HF and LF bulls had also VIP scores of greater than 1.5 and AUC- ROC curves of more than 80%. In addition, four metabolic pathways associated with differential metabolites namely alanine, aspartate and glutamate metabolism, β-alanine metabolism, glycolysis or gluconeogenesis, and pyruvate metabolism were also explored. Conclusions: This is the first study aimed at ascertaining the metabolome of spermatozoa from bulls with different fertility phenotype using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. We identified five metabolites in the two groups of sires and such molecules can be used, in the future, as key indicators of bull fertility.



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