Effects of reactive oxygen species on sperm function

Theriogenology. 2012 Nov;78(8):1700-8. doi: 10.1016/j.theriogenology.2012.05.002. Epub 2012 Jun 14.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation and membrane lipid peroxidation have been recognized as problems for sperm survival and fertility. The precise roles and detection of superoxide (SO), hydrogen peroxide (HP), and membrane lipid peroxidation have been problematic, because of the low specificity and sensitivity of the established chemiluminescence assay technologies. We developed flow cytometric assays to measure SO, HP, membrane lipid peroxidation, and inner mitochondrial transmembrane potential in boar sperm. These methods were sufficiently sensitive to permit detection of early changes in ROS formation in sperm cells that were still viable. Basal ROS formation and membrane lipid peroxidation in the absence of ROS generators were low in viable sperm of both fresh and frozen-thawed boar semen, affecting less than 4% of the sperm cells on average. However, this is not the case in other species, as human, bovine, and poultry sperm have large increases in sperm ROS formation, lipid peroxidation, loss of motility, and death in vitro. Closer study of the effects of ROS formation on the relationship between sperm motility and ATP content in boar sperm was conducted using menadione (mitochondrial SO generator) and HP treatment. Menadione or HP caused an immediate disruption of motility with delayed or no decrease in sperm ATP content, respectively. Overall, the inhibitory effects of ROS on motility point to a mitochondrial-independent mechanism. The reduction in motility may have been due to a ROS-induced lesion in ATP utilization or in the contractile apparatus of the flagellum.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / analysis
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • DNA Damage
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / analysis
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Male
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial
  • Poultry
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / analysis
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / pharmacology
  • Semen Preservation
  • Sperm Motility / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / chemistry
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure
  • Superoxides / analysis
  • Swine


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Superoxides
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Hydrogen Peroxide