The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) on the integrity of the DNA of human spermatozoa, and to determine if pretreatment with antioxidants can reduce DNA damage. Samples were obtained from 47 men undergoing infertility investigation. ROS were generated in the samples by the addition of xanthine/xanthine oxidase (X/XO) with or without antioxidants. After incubation at timed intervals (0-2 h) with X/XO, the percentage of spermatozoa with DNA fragmentation was determined using the method of TdT-mediated DNA end-labelling (TUNEL). Time intervals were selected to mimic the clinical situation in which spermatozoa are held for a period of time after swim-up while the oocytes are prepared for ICSI. A significant increase in sperm DNA damage was evident when samples were incubated in the presence of ROS for intervals of 1 and 2 h, but not when incubated with ROS for <1 h (P = 0.0001). The addition of antioxidants significantly decreased the amount of DNA damage induced by ROS generation (P < 0.04). ROS can cause an increase in DNA fragmentation and pretreatment with antioxidants can reduce DNA damage.