The Amoroso Lecture. The human spermatozoon--a cell in crisis?

J Reprod Fertil. 1999 Jan;115(1):1-7. doi: 10.1530/jrf.0.1150001.


A great deal of evidence has accumulated in recent years to suggest that there has been a gradual increase in male reproductive pathology over the past 30-40 years, as evidenced by increased rates of testicular cancer and declining semen quality. The hypothesis is advanced that this phenomenon is causally related to the ability of male germ cells to generate reactive oxygen metabolites. When produced in low levels, such metabolites are thought to enhance sperm function by stimulating DNA compaction and promoting a redox-regulated cAMP-mediated pathway that is central to the induction of sperm capacitation. When produced in excessive amounts, the same metabolites stimulate DNA fragmentation and a loss of sperm function associated with peroxidative damage to the sperm plasma membrane. Free radical-induced mutations in the male germ line may also be involved in the aetiology of childhood cancer and recent increases in the incidence of seminoma. In light of these considerations, establishing the mechanisms for free radical generation by the male germ line and determining the factors that influence this activity are important objectives for future research in this area.

Publication types

  • Lecture
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • DNA Damage
  • Free Radicals
  • Gene Deletion
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / etiology*
  • Infertility, Male / genetics
  • Infertility, Male / pathology
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Seminoma / etiology
  • Seminoma / genetics
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism*
  • Spermatozoa / pathology
  • Testicular Neoplasms / etiology
  • Testicular Neoplasms / genetics
  • Y Chromosome


  • Free Radicals