Author(s): Ochsendorf FR
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Abstract In the male genital tract, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are generated by spermatozoa and leukocytes including neutrophils and macrophages. ROS are involved in the regulation of sperm functions such as capacitation and the acrosome reaction. Infections lead to an excessive ROS production, resulting in an 'oxidative burst' from neutrophils/macrophages as a first-line defence mechanism. This is modulated by several cytokines and the pro-oxidant mechanisms of bacteria and viruses. At the site of an infection, the degree of activation of leukocytes, i.e. the amount of ROS produced, and the available antioxidative systems determine whether spermatozoa are damaged or not. During an infection, an imbalance of pro- and antioxidants favouring the former results in oxidative stress which impairs the sperm functions mentioned, as well as motility and fertilization. ROS produced during infections of the testis and epididymis are especially harmful to spermatozoa due to the longer contact time and the lack of antioxidant protection. In the final ejaculate, only very high numbers of ROS-producing leukocytes are detrimental to sperm functions. An infectious injury involving ROS in the prostate gland, seminal vesicles or epididymis could impair sperm functions indirectly. Pro- and antioxidative properties of therapeutics are currently receiving more attention as part of anti-infectious therapies. At present, there are many unresolved questions concerning the exact role of ROS during infections of the male genital tract because of the difficulty of specifically assessing the site of generation and the short-lived effects of ROS. New techniques may enable specific studies to fill this gap in the near future.
This article was published in Hum Reprod Update
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