Reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and the outcome of diagnostic tests of sperm function

Kate Whittington, Shona C. Harrison, Kate M. Williams, Joanne L. Day, Eileen A. McLaughlin, Michael G.R. Hull, W. Christopher L. Ford

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65 Citations (Scopus)


Washed sperm suspensions from 64 out of 89 (72%) randomly selected infertility patients produced detectable reactive oxygen species (ROS) compared to 17 out of 67 (25%) prospective semen donors (p < 0.01, Chi-square test). Among patients, the median sperm concentration in ejaculates which yielded sperm suspensions that generated detectable levels of ROS was lower than in those which did not: 36.2 (15.63-57.64) vs. 71.5 (22-108) x 10 6 /mL, respectively (median (interquartile range), p < 0.05, Kruskal-Wallis test). In samples that produced ROS, the basal rate of production and the rates after stimulation with 50 μmol N-formyl met leu phe (N-FMLP) l -1 or with 100 nmol phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) l -1 were significantly and inversely correlated with sperm concentration in the ejaculate (r = -0.43, -0.41 and -0.35, respectively, p < 0.01 Spearman's rank correlation). The rate of ROS production showed no relationship to the motility of spermatozoa in semen, whether evaluated visually or via computer assisted semen analysis. However, there was a significant negative correlation (r = -0.370) between the motile, normal sperm concentration (MNSC) and basal ROS production, and when stimulated with N-FMLP (r = -0.311) or with PMA (r = -0.249) (all p < 0.05). In patient samples that generated detectable ROS, the ability of the spermatozoa to retain motility for 24 h after preparation on a 40/80% Percoll gradient was negatively correlated with basal ROS production (r = -0.310, p < 0.05). ROS production was also related to the outcome of in vitro sperm mucus penetration tests. Unstimulated levels of ROS production showed a significant (p < (0.05), negative correlation with the number of progressively motile spermatozoa present in mucus after 15 (r = -0.379) and 60 (r = -0.362) min. These results suggest that sperm samples with increased ROS tend to have poor semen quality and reduced performance in a number of routine, diagnostic sperm function tests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-242
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Andrology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1999
Externally publishedYes


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