Mechanisms of Mitochondrial ROS Production in Assisted Reproduction: The Known, the Unknown, and the Intriguing

James N Cobley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
58 Downloads (Pure)


The consensus that assisted reproduction technologies (ART), like in vitro fertilization, to induce oxidative stress (i.e., the known) belies how oocyte/zygote mitochondria-a major presumptive oxidative stressor-produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) with ART being unknown. Unravelling how oocyte/zygote mitochondria produce ROS is important for disambiguating the molecular basis of ART-induced oxidative stress and, therefore, to rationally target it (e.g., using site-specific mitochondria-targeted antioxidants). I review the known mechanisms of ROS production in somatic mitochondria to critique how oocyte/zygote mitochondria may produce ROS (i.e., the unknown). Several plausible site- and mode-defined mitochondrial ROS production mechanisms in ART are proposed. For example, complex I catalyzed reverse electron transfer-mediated ROS production is conceivable when oocytes are initially extracted due to at least a 10% increase in molecular dioxygen exposure (i.e., the intriguing). To address the term oxidative stress being used without recourse to the underlying chemistry, I use the species-specific spectrum of biologically feasible reactions to define plausible oxidative stress mechanisms in ART. Intriguingly, mitochondrial ROS-derived redox signals could regulate embryonic development (i.e., their production could be beneficial). Their potential beneficial role raises the clinical challenge of attenuating oxidative damage while simultaneously preserving redox signaling. This discourse sets the stage to unravel how mitochondria produce ROS in ART, and their biological roles from oxidative damage to redox signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2020


  • mitochondria
  • oxidative stress
  • reactive oxygen species
  • assisted reproduction technology
  • development
  • oocyte


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