Male infertility testing: reactive oxygen species and antioxidant capacity

Fertil Steril. 2014 Dec;102(6):1518-27. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.10.020. Epub 2014 Nov 25.


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are an integral component of sperm developmental physiology, capacitation, and function. Elevated ROS levels, from processes such as infection or inflammation, can be associated with aberrations of sperm development, function, and fertilizing capacity. We review the impact of ROS on sperm physiology, its place in infertility evaluation, the implications for reproductive outcomes, and antioxidant therapy. Our systematic review of PubMed literature from the last 3 decades focuses on the physiology and etiology of ROS and oxidative stress (OS), evaluation of ROS, and antioxidants. ROS is normally produced physiologically and is used to maintain cellular processes such as sperm maturation, capacitation, and sperm-oocyte interaction. When ROS production exceeds the buffering capacity of antioxidants, OS occurs and can have a negative impact on sperm and fertility. ROS and antioxidant capacity testing can potentially add additional prognostic information to standard laboratory testing for the infertile male, although its role as standard part of an evaluation has yet to be determined. Elevated ROS levels have been implicated with abnormal semen parameters and male infertility, but the impact of ROS on fertilization rates and pregnancy is controversial. This is partly because of the lack of consensus on what type of patients may be suitable for ROS testing and assay standardization. Routine ROS testing for the infertile male is not currently recommended.

Keywords: Antioxidant capacity; antioxidants; male infertility; reactive oxygen species.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / pharmacology*
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species