Effects of zinc deficiency on impaired spermatogenesis and male infertility: the role of oxidative stress, inflammation and apoptosis

Hum Fertil (Camb). 2020 Apr;23(1):5-16. doi: 10.1080/14647273.2018.1494390. Epub 2018 Aug 21.


Zinc (Zn) is necessary for the normal function of the male reproductive system and spermatozoa. Although influences of zinc deficiency on impaired spermatogenesis and male infertility have been widely considered, the molecular and cellular mechanisms of these abnormalities are not well understood. General abnormalities, including hypogonadism, Leydig cells damage, deficiency of sex hormone production and impaired spermatogenesis, as well as inflammation, antioxidant depletion, sperm death and male infertility can be observed during zinc deficiency. However, it is not obvious which pathways are relevant to the pathogenesis of zinc deficiency. Oxidative stress (OS) induced by reactive oxygen species is likely as the main mechanism of zinc deficiency which is associated with sperm DNA fragmentation, decrease in sperm membrane integrity, apoptosis, depletion of antioxidants, and consequently poor sperm quality and male infertility. Therefore, identification of these pathways will give valuable information regarding the mechanisms of zinc deficiency on the male reproductive system and the potential way for developing a better clinical approach. In this review, we aim to discuss the proposed cellular and molecular mechanisms of zinc deficiency on the male reproductive system, the importance of OS and mechanisms by which zinc deficiency induces OS and depletion of other antioxidants.

Keywords: Zinc; male infertility; oxidative stress; semen quality; spermatogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / analysis
  • Apoptosis
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / etiology*
  • Inflammation
  • Male
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Semen / physiology
  • Spermatogenesis / physiology*
  • Spermatozoa / chemistry
  • Spermatozoa / physiology
  • Testis / growth & development
  • Testis / physiology
  • Zinc / administration & dosage
  • Zinc / deficiency*
  • Zinc / physiology


  • Antioxidants
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Zinc