Roles of Reactive Oxygen Species in Female Reproduction


Author’s address (for correspondence): RL Sciorsci, Department of Animal Production, Faculty Of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari ‘Aldo Moro’, strada P.le per Casamassima Km 3, 70010, Valenzano, Bari, Italy. E-mail:


Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are highly reactive oxidizing agents. Cells, under aerobic conditions, have a defence system against ROS, and in normal circumstances, there is an appropriate balance between pro-oxidants and antioxidants. When an overproduction of ROS develops or the body fails to eliminate ROS in excess, oxidative stress arises, during which ROS accumulate and damage cells and tissues. Besides their noxious effects, accumulating data have shown that controlled and adequate ROS concentrations exert physiologic functions. Different studies have confirmed the presence of ROS and the transcripts of the various antioxidant enzymes in the female reproductive tract. When ROS production overwhelms antioxidant defences, oxidative stress occurs, which may deeply threaten the anatomical and functional integrity of the genital tract. This review addresses the main physiological and pathological roles exerted by ROS and their scavenging systems in several processes involved in the main physiological functions of the female reproductive tract of both women and domestic animals. Particularly, the involvement of the oxidant system in several reproductive processes is investigated, such as follicular development, ovarian steroidogenesis, ovulation, corpus luteum formation and function, luteolysis, germ cell function, maintenance of pregnancy and beginning of parturition.