The fertilising ability of human spermatozoa may be impaired by inflammations of the genital tract, although details of these processes are still unknown. Hypochlorous acid (HOCl), an important product of myeloperoxidase released from stimulated neutrophils, induces a concentration-dependent increase in externalisation of phosphatidylserine in ejaculated human spermatozoa as revealed by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis. The increase of annexin-V binding cells starts already at about 10(-5) mol/l HOCl, while a formation of lysophosphatidylcholines as detected by matrix-assisted laser desorption and ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) is only found at HOCl concentrations higher than 10(-4) mol/l. Thus, changes in lipid composition of spermatozoa are unlikely responsible for the phosphatidylcholine (PS)-externalisation. These data gave concomitant evidence that HOCl itself leads to a dramatic damage of the cell membrane. Thus, the neutrophil-derived HOCl contributes to the deterioration of spermatozoa leading to diminished fertilisation ability.