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Bioessays. 1994 Apr;16(4):259-67.

Reactive oxygen species generation and human spermatozoa: the balance of benefit and risk.

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MRC Reproductive Biology Unit, Edinburgh, UK.


Although the generation of reactive oxygen species is an activity normally associated with phagocytic leucocytes, mammalian spermatozoa were, in fact, the first cell type in which this activity was described. In recent years it has become apparent that spermatozoa are not the only nonphagocytic cells to exhibit a capacity for reactive oxygen species production, because this activity has been detected in a wide variety of different cells including fibroblasts, mesangial cells, oocytes, Leydig cells, endothelial cells, thyroid cells, adipocytes, tumour cells and platelets. Since the capacity to generate reactive oxygen species is apparently so widespread, the risk-benefit equation for these potentially pernicious molecules becomes a matter of intense interest. In the case of human spermatozoa, the risk of manufacturing reactive oxygen metabolites is considerable because these cells are particularly vulnerable to lipid peroxidation. Indeed, there is now good evidence to indicate that oxygen radicals are involved in the initiation of peroxidative damage to the sperm plasma membrane, seen in many cases of male infertility. This risk is off-set by recent data suggesting that superoxide anions and hydrogen peroxide also participate in the induction of key biological events such as hyperactivated motility and the acrosome reaction. Thus, human spermatozoa appear to use reactive oxygen species for a physiological purpose and have the difficult task of ensuring the balanced generation of these potentially harmful, but biologically important, modulators of cellular function.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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