Loyola University Medical Education Network Part 20: Male Reproductive Tract

Slide 41

Low power view of the testis at the mediastinal region where the duct system leaves the organ.

Slide 42

Higher power of rete testis, the narrow cavernous channels lying in the dense connective tissue. You will notice a couple of thin-walled, blood-filled blood vessels also coursing in the same region. Sperm produced in the seminiferous tubules leave the testis by way of the rete, which ultimately converges on about twelve efferent ducts.

Slide 43

Detail of rete testis, showing cavernous, irregular channels lined with a low epithelium.

Slide 44

Low power view of seminiferous tubules. These tubules are very long and tightly coiled, so each one is cut many times in any given section of the testis. Blood vessels and interstitial cells of Leydig lie in the connective tissue stroma between the tubules.

Slide 45

Seminiferous tubules of the testis. A small amount of smooth muscle around the tubule aids in moving differentiated sperm along the tubule and into the rete testis.

Slide 46

Detail of wall of seminiferous tubule, showing stages of spermatogenesis. The large, vertically oriented nucleus at the base on the left belongs to a Sertoli cell; notice that sperm heads (somewhat out of focus) are clustered deep down near this nucleus. The horizontally flattened nuclei along the base of the tubule belong to spermatogonia, the continually multiplying, diploid germ cells. A few primary spermatocytes, with the dark, condensed chromosomes undergoing prophase of meiotic division, lie just above the spermatogonia. Above the spermatocytes are the round, relatively small, haploid spermatids, which would occupy the rest of the layers up toward the lumen.

Slide 47

Drawing of stages in the differentiation of sperm directly from spermatids. This process is called spermiogenesis.

Slide 48

Scanning EM of differentiated sperm in the top photos, and a drawing below of a spermatozoan as seen in transmission EM. In the SEM views: Additional labels of importance in the TEM drawing include: Cross-cuts of the three main parts of the flagellum are shown. Notice that a plasma membrane covers the entire sperm; in other words, this is a highly differentiated single cell. The flagellum is not motile when sperm leave the testis, but maturation takes place during the long stay in the epididymis. Actually, sperm are not fully capacitated for fertilization until they encounter the fluids of the vagina.

Slide 49

Detail of EM of the three main segments of the flagellum.

Slide 50

Another detailed view of spermatozoan, with appropriate cross-cuts. Notice again how the acrosomal cap (or enzyme-containing sac) fits over the nucleus.

Slide 51

Diagram of the relation between Sertoli cells and the cells undergoing spermatogenesis in the wall of the seminiferous tubule. Best seen to the left is a tall columnar Sertoli cell, with a very indented, irregular cell outline. Its nucleus lies near the base. The spermatogenic cells lie in the indentations of the Sertoli cell, apparently taking some nourishment from the columnar cell. The spaces where the spermatogonia, spermatocytes. and spermatids would lie are empty here, but you'll notice that there are connecting channels from space to space because these cells are incompletely separated during meiosis and are connected with each other by intercellular bridges, much as if in a chain of paper dolls. As the spermatids differentiate into sperm, their heads indent the Sertoli cells from the top and may push quite deeply down toward the nucleus, never breaking the Sertoli cell membrane but just being supported and protected in this way. Notice, near the base of the Sertoli cell, that the cell spreads out horizontally to meet its Sertoli cell neighbors and that bands of tight junctions develop between them (see arrows). These form the so-called "blood testis barrier", which provides an immunologically privileged environment for all the cells lying above it (toward the lumen). The diploid spermatogonia, which are genetically like most of the cells of the body, lie in the basal compartment, where they are exposed to all contents of the blood capillaries that surround the seminiferous tubule. Spermatocytes and spermatids, on the other hand, lie in the adluminal compartment, above the barrier, and are shielded from some substances in the blood. Remember, too, that these meiotically active and eventually haploid cells are genetically different from the rest of the body and would be recognized as "foreign" if not protected from blood and tissue fluids.

Slide 52

Wall of seminiferous tubule. Along the base can be seen small dark nuclei of spermatogonia and large, pale, ovoid or triangular nuclei of Sertoli cells, each with a prominent nucleolus. Sperm heads are imbedded in folds of Sertoli cell membrane, rather deep within the tubule wall. Sperm tails are pointing toward the tubule lumen. Primary spermatocytes have large nuclei with the condensed chromosomes in prophase, near the base of the wall. The small, round nuclei toward the lumen belong to early spermatids. Pale pink cytoplasmic cast-offs from differentiating spermatids (becoming sperm) lie next to the lumen. Look again at the two Sertoli cells farthest to the left and notice how their cytoplasm meets near the base to form the basal and adluminal compartments on either side of the junction.

Slide 53

Efferent ducts with their irregular epithelial border. These are the only portions of the male reproductive tract with motile cilia on the lining epithelium. Cilia help to move the sperm along toward the epididymis.

Slide 54

Detail of efferent duct wall, a low pseudostratified columnar epithelium with some surrounding smooth muscle. The epithelium is ciliated. Sperm lie in the lumen.

Slide 55

Epididymis with pseudostratified columnar epithelium with stereocilia. (Stereocilia are structurally like microvilli rather than like true cilia. They do not move.) Each cross-cut of tubule shows some surrounding smooth muscle cells. Notice how very regular this epithelium is in height, making an unusually smooth apical line near the lumen. This is characteristic of epididymis. Compare this with the "scalloped" edge of efferent ducts in the previous slides.

Slide 56

Another view of epididymal wall, showing more clearly the basal and columnar cells of the pseudostratified epithelium. The stereocilia are long and pale (practically invisible here!). Circular smooth muscle in the outer wall is evident.

Slide 57

Distended epididymis packed with maturing sperm. They are already mature structurally but are only now acquiring the ability to move on their own.

Slide 58

Low power view of spermatic cord, containing blood vessels, nerve, skeletal muscle, and a thick-walled vas deferens (ductus deferens) at the extreme upper left.

Slide 59

Ductus deferens with its proportionally small lumen and heavy muscular coat. The bulk of the smooth muscle is circular, but there is a thin inner longitudinal and a somewhat thicker outer longitudinal layer.

Slide 60

Detail of epithelial lining of the ductus deferens. It is pseudostratified columnar with non-motile stereocilia.

Slide 61

Prostate gland with both distended and infolded epithelial linings of the secretory portions. The saccular secretory tubules lie in a dense connective tissue framework (stained pink here). The prostate, along with the seminal vesicles and bulbo-urethral glands, contributes nourishing and lubricating fluids to the ejaculated semen.

Slide 62

Detail of saccular secretory tubule of prostate with a typical concretion (hardened mass) in the lumen. The concretion appears to be lamellated (in layers).

Slide 63

Prostate stained with Mallory to show pink/lavender strands of smooth muscle lying in the blue connective tissue framework. Notice again that the secretory tubules are wide and sacculated and that the epithelium is thrown into folds.

Slide 64

Penile urethra (corpus spongiosum), showing the typical dorso-ventral flattening of its lumen. The mucosal lining is highly folded. The bulk of the wall is composed of erectile tissue consisting of convoluted trabeculae surrounded by irregular vascular spaces (mainly venous sinuses) which are lined with endothelium. Some of the spaces are empty here; some are filled with dark red blood.

prev main next

John A. McNulty Last Updated: August 12, 1996