Leukocytes as ROS Producers

Leukocytes frequently appear in ejaculates, even in those from fertile men [27]. The WHO, in the latest edition of the laboratory manual [28] recommended a cut-off value for leukocytospermia, an excessive amount of leukocytes in the ejaculate, of 106/mL. Yet, this cut-off value is not unquestioned, and it has been shown that leukocyte concentrations as low as 4 x 104/mL can inflict damage to sperm functions and the DNA [29-31]. Therefore, several groups [32-36] suggested that the cut-off value for leukocytospermia should be lowered. In contrast, other groups found that the detection of leukocytospermia is of no diagnostic value for the identification of men with actual microbial infections [37]. Since no humoral immunological response was detected, bacteria found in semen cultures were only regarded as contaminants from the genital tract [38] .

A recent study (Mupfiga and Henkel, unpublished data) showed that, as expected, the seminal leukocyte concentration is correlated not only significantly with the seminal ROS production but also with the production of superoxide, the activation of the effector caspases-3/7 in spermatozoa and the percentage of sperm with disrupted mitochondrial membrane potential. These observations give evidence that a high seminal concentration of activated leukocytes, as it is the case in male genital tract infections/inflammation, can trigger programmed cell death, apoptosis, by means of activating the caspase system and consequently leading to male infertility.

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