Oxidative stress and epididymal sperm transport, motility and morphological defects

Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2009 May;144 Suppl 1:S199-203. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2009.02.018. Epub 2009 Mar 17.


Objectives: Radical oxidative species (ROS) have an important effect on sperm quality and quantity. Oxidative stress (OS) occurs when production of potentially destructive reactive oxygen species (ROS) exceeds the body's own natural antioxidant defenses, resulting in cellular damage. OS is a common pathology seen in approximately half of all infertile men. Increased ROS generation and reduced antioxidant capacity is negatively correlated with sperm concentration and motility in infertile men. For the first time, we used a more stable and reliable sensitive carbonyl protein (CP) detection method to determine ROS in seminal plasma than measuring ROS directly to clarify the effect of OS on spermatozoa in terms of protein dysfunction. This is the first report to measure CP in seminal plasma as an indicator of OS. Furthermore, for the first time we correlated the results of CP measurement with light microscopy in combination with ultrastructural analysis by electron microscopy.

Material and methods: 20 patients with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia (iOAT) and 10 fertile controls were enrolled in this study. CP values were measured by enzyme-linked immuno sorbent assay (ELISA) to detect the level of OS. Transmission electron microscope (TEM) was used to detect axonemal anomalies.

Results: Compared to fertile controls, statistically highly significant higher degrees of abnormal sperm parameters (P<0.001) could be found in iOAT patients. CP values were highly significantly elevated in iOAT patients than in normal controls (P<0.001). A statistically highly significant difference in different axonemal anomalies were found between iOAT patients and normal controls (P<0.001). CP values have been found to be positively correlated with different axonemal anomalies (absence of axoneme (r(2)=0.841), missing of central singlet tubules (r(2)=0.702) and missing of outer doublet tubules (r(2)=0.869). A statistically negative correlation were found between different axonemal anomalies (absent axoneme (r(2)=-0.780), missing of central singlet tubules (r(2)=-0.611), and missing of outer doublet tubules (r(2)=-0.738) and forward progressive sperm motility.

Conclusion: High levels of CP can be measured in iOAT patients, indicating that OS could underlie the aetipopathogenesis of the syndrome. OS negatively affects flagellar axonemal structure with subsequent impairment of forward progressive sperm motility. This can put an attention for antioxidants as a therapy for iOAT syndrome and further research to find how to decrease ROS production.

MeSH terms

  • Asthenozoospermia / physiopathology*
  • Epididymis / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Protein Carbonylation
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / analysis
  • Semen / chemistry*
  • Sperm Motility
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure


  • Reactive Oxygen Species