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Volume 15, Issue 3 (May 2013) 15, 375–381; 10.1038/aja.2012.144

Protective effects of exogenous gangliosides on ROS-induced changes in human spermatozoa

Mirjana Gavella and Vaskresenija Lipovac

Reproductive Biochemistry and Cell Metabolism Unit, Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, Merkur University Hospital, Zagreb 10000, Croatia

Correspondence: Dr M Gavella, (mirjana.gavella@idb.hr)

Received 23 May 2012; Revised 11 July 2012; Accepted 14 November 2012 Advance online publication 18 March 2013


This article summarizes the available evidence on the efficacy of gangliosides to reduce the degree of reactive oxygen species (ROS)-mediated damage. The antioxidative efficacy of exogenous gangliosides in protecting different cells encouraged us to examine their ability to protect human spermatozoa. Gangliosides are sialic acid-containing glycosphingolipids with strong amphiphilic character due to the bulky headgroup made of several sugar rings with sialic acid residues and the double-tailed hydrophobic lipid moiety. The amphiphilicity of gangliosides allows them to exist as micelles in aqueous media when they are present at a concentration above their critical micellar concentration. The protective effect of ganglioside micelles on spermatozoa is believed to stem from their ability to scavenge free radicals and prevent their damaging effects. In our study, we particularly focused our attention on the protective effect of ganglioside micelles on DNA in human spermatozoa exposed to cryopreservation. The results indicate that ganglioside micelles can modulate the hydrophobic properties of the sperm membrane to increase tolerance to DNA fragmentation, thus protecting the DNA from cryopreservation-induced damage. Further actions of ganglioside micelles, which were documented by biochemical and biophysical studies, included (i) the modulation of superoxide anion generation by increasing the diffusion barrier for membrane events responsible for signal translocation to the interior of the cell; (ii) the inhibition of iron-catalysed hydroxyl radical formation due to the iron chelation potential of gangliosides; and (iii) inhibition of hydrogen peroxide diffusion across the sperm membrane.

Keywords: exogenous gangliosides; oxidative stress; protection; spermatozoa

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