Reproduction, Fertility and Development Reproduction, Fertility and Development Society
Vertebrate reproductive science and technology

Oxidative stress and male reproductive biology

R. John Aitken A B and Mark A. Baker A

A ARC Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology and Development and Reproductive Science Group, Discipline of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and IT, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia.

B To whom correspondence should be addressed. email:

Reproduction, Fertility and Development 16(5) 581-588
Submitted: 13 October 2003  Accepted: 12 November 2003   Published: 22 July 2004


Spermatozoa were the first cell type in which the cellular generation of reactive oxygen was demonstrated. This activity has now been confirmed in spermatozoa from all mammalian species examined including the rat, mouse, rabbit, horse, bull and human being. Under physiological circumstances, cellular redox activity is thought to drive the cAMP-mediated, tyrosine phosphorylation events associated with sperm capacitation. In addition to this biological role, human spermatozoa also appear to suffer from oxidative stress, with impacts on the normality of their function and the integrity of their nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. Recent studies have helped to clarify the molecular basis for the intense redox activity observed in defective human spermatozoa, the nature of the subcellular structures responsible for this activity and possible mechanisms by which oxidative stress impacts on these cells. Given the importance of oxidative damage in the male germ line to the origins of male infertility, early pregnancy loss and childhood disease, this area of sperm biochemistry deserves attention from all those interested in improved methods for the diagnosis, management and prevention of male-mediated reproductive failure.


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