Boar spermatozoa successfully predict mitochondrial modes of toxicity: implications for drug toxicity testing and the 3R principles

Toxicol In Vitro. 2015 Apr;29(3):582-91. doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2015.01.004. Epub 2015 Jan 23.


Replacement of animal testing by in vitro methods (3-R principles) requires validation of suitable cell models, preferably obtained non-invasively, defying traditional use of explants. Ejaculated spermatozoa are highly dependent on mitochondrial production and consumption of ATP for their metabolism, including motility display, thus becoming a suitable model for capturing multiple modes of action of drugs and other chemicals acting via mitochondrial disturbance. In this study, a hypothesis was tested that the boar spermatozoon is a suitable cell type for toxicity assessment, providing a protocol for 3R-replacement of animals for research and drug-testing. Boar sperm kinetics was challenged with a wide variety of known frank mito-toxic chemicals with previously shown mitochondrial effects, using a semi-automated motility analyser allied with real-time fluorescent probing of mitochondrial potential (MitoTracker & JC-1). Output of this sperm assay (obtained after 30 min) was compared to cell viability (ATP-content, data obtained after 24-48 h) of a hepatome-cell line (HepG2). Results of compound effects significantly correlated (P<0.01) for all sperm variables and for most variables in (HepG2). Dose-dependent decreases of relative ATP content in HepG2 cells correlated to sperm speed (r=0.559) and proportions of motile (r=0.55) or progressively motile (r=0.53) spermatozoa. The significance of the study relies on the objectivity of computerized testing of sperm motility inhibition which is comparable albeit of faster output than somatic cell culture models. Sperm suspensions, easily and painlessly obtained from breeding boars, are confirmed as suitable biosensors for preclinical toxicology screening and ranking of lead compounds in the drug development processes.

Keywords: Boar; Drug; Mitochondria; Motility; Sperm; Toxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animal Testing Alternatives*
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / drug effects*
  • Software
  • Sperm Motility / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects*
  • Swine
  • Toxicity Tests*


  • Adenosine Triphosphate