The ATP content of pachytene spermatocytes and round spermatids, isolated from rat testes, was not maintained during incubation of the germ cells in the presence of glucose. Glucose was metabolized via glycolysis at a considerable rate, but the rate of oxidation of the resulting endogenous pyruvate in the mitochondria was too low to support fully ATP production. Exogenous pyruvate (0.25 mM) or exogenous L-lactate (3-6 mM), however, were effective energy substrates. The lactate dehydrogenase reaction in isolated germ cells favoured the rapid conversion of pyruvate to lactate, at the expense of reducing equivalents from mitochondrial NADH. Hence, to support ATP production by the germ cells via mitochondrial metabolism of endogenous pyruvate, a relatively high concentration of exogenous lactate may be essential. In the spermatogenic microenvironment in vivo, such high concentrations of lactate could result from the net production of lactate by Sertoli cells. The mitochondria of the isolated germ cells produced ATP probably at a close to maximal rate, and spermatogenesis therefore may be extremely sensitive to compounds which interfere with mitochondrial energy metabolism and respiratory control.