• catalase;
  • chemiluminescence;
  • hydrogen peroxide;
  • male infertility;
  • ROS scavengers;
  • seminal plasma;
  • spermatozoa;
  • superoxide anion;
  • superoxide dismutase


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) can be detected in the semen of 40% of infertile men, whereas none is detected in semen from normal men. The ROS detected in semen are a reflection of the imbalance between ROS production and degradation. The aim of the present study was to determine whether a lowered scavenging capacity or an increased production of ROS was responsible for the ROS detected in semen samples from infertile men. Two activities were investigated: (1) catalase-like activity, which is responsible for the degradation of H2O2, and (2) superoxide dismutase-like (SOD-like) activity which is responsible for the degradation of O2--. Catalase-like and SOD-like activities were found in whole seminal plasma, in dialyzed seminal plasma (> 12 kD), in an ultrafiltrate of seminal plasma (< 5 kD) and in spermatozoa. There was no significant difference in the SOD-like activities measured in spermatozoa, or in seminal plasma (whole or fractionated) from samples that did or did not produce ROS. SOD-like activity originated mostly from the high molecular weight components of seminal plasma. However, the catalase-like activity of whole seminal plasma and of spermatozoa was significantly greater (P = 0.01) in those samples that produced ROS as compared to those that did not. The catalase-like activity in dialyzed seminal plasma, and an ultrafiltrate of seminal plasma from semen samples that did or did not produce ROS were not statistically different. The catalase-like activity of the seminal plasma originated equally from high and low molecular weight components. In conclusion, the data suggest that the ROS detected in the semen of infertile patients are likely due to increased ROS production rather than to decreased ROS scavenging capacity.