Development of the NBT assay as a marker of sperm oxidative stress.

Ozlem Tunc, Jeremy Thompson, Kelton Tremellen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


Oxidative stress is a well-established cause of male infertility, with reactive oxygen species (ROS) causing infertility principally by impairing sperm motility and DNA integrity. Currently, most clinics do not test their infertile patients for the presence of oxidative stress because the available tests are expensive or difficult to perform. As antioxidant therapy may improve sperm DNA integrity and pregnancy outcomes, it has become apparent that there is an unmet clinical need for an inexpensive and easy-to-perform assay to identify sperm oxidative stress. The aim of this study was to develop a standardized protocol for performing a photometric nitro blue tetrazolium (NBT) assay for the measurement of seminal ROS production via production of coloured formazan, whilst correlating these results with impaired sperm function (motility and DNA integrity). Semen samples from 21 fertile and 36 male aetiology infertile men were assessed for ROS production (NBT assay), sperm DNA integrity (TUNEL), apoptosis (Annexin V) and sperm motility. Infertile men's semen contained on average fourfold higher levels of ROS than fertile men. The production of ROS by sperm was positively correlated with sperm DNA fragmentation and apoptosis, whilst being negatively correlated with sperm motility. Receiver-operating characteristic plot analysis established a cut-off point of 24 μg formazan/10 7 sperm having a sensitivity of 91.7% and a specificity of 81% for determining the fertility status of an individual. This study has been successful in establishing a standardized protocol for performing a photometric seminal NBT assay that has significant clinical utility in identifying men with impaired fertility because of oxidative stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-21
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA
  • Nitro blue tetrazolium
  • Oxidative stress
  • Sperm


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