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J Reprod Fertil Suppl. 1998;53:109-18.

Maturation of redox regulatory mechanisms in the epididymis.

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MRC Reproductive Biology Unit, Edinburgh, UK.


As spermatozoa pass through the epididymis they complete a maturation process that enables these cells to participate in the process of fertilization. Epididymal maturation involves a complex cascade of changes involving the remodelling of the sperm surface, the induction of chromatin condensation, the acquisition of movement, and development of the potential for capacitation. In this review we shall consider how changes in the redox status of mammalian spermatozoa may contribute to the completion of these maturation events. Spermatozoa from all regions of the epididymis exhibit a spontaneous capacity for superoxide anion production which can be enhanced by exposure to NADPH, particularly in the caput region. It is hypothesized that this spontaneous free radical generating activity is mediated by a membrane-bound NADPH oxidase, the function of which is to generate the peroxides that are needed to serve as hydrogen acceptors for phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathione peroxidase in the induction of sperm chromatin condensation. As spermatozoa enter the cauda epididymidis they also express a capacity for hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) generation when released into simple, defined culture media. The onset of this activity is thought to be associated with the induction of sperm capacitation through stimulation of the tyrosine phosphorylation events involved in the attainment of a capacitated state. It is concluded that sperm maturation is a dynamic, redox regulated process, any imbalance in which could lead to the production of spermatozoa that are compromised in terms of their potential for fertilization and the integrity of their DNA.

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