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Rev Reprod. 1997 Jan;2(1):48-54.

Reactive oxygen species and sperm physiology.

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Urology Research Laboratory, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montréal, Québec, Canada.


Although high concentrations of reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause sperm pathology (ATP depletion leading to insufficient axonemal phosphorylation, lipid peroxidation and loss of motility and viability), recent evidence demonstrates that low and controlled concentrations of these ROS play an important role in sperm physiology. Reactive oxygen species, such as the superoxide anion, hydrogen peroxide and nitric oxide, induce sperm hyperactivation, capacitation or the acrosome reaction in vitro. The ROS involved in these processes may vary depending on experimental conditions, but all the evidence converges to describe these events as 'oxidative' or 'redox regulated'. Human sperm capacitation and acrosome reaction are associated with extracellular production of a superoxide anion that is thought to originate from a membrane 'oxidase'. The enzymes responsible for tyrosine phosphorylation-dephosphorylation of sperm proteins are possible targets for ROS since mild oxidative conditions cause increases in protein tyrosine phosphorylation and acrosome reaction. The lipid peroxidation resulting from low concentrations of ROS promotes binding to the zona pellucida and may trigger the release of unesterified fatty acids from the sperm plasma membrane. The fine balance between ROS production and scavenging, as well as the right timing and site for ROS production are of paramount importance for acquisition of fertilizing ability.

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