Image Caption : Testicle with Exposed Internal Structure: Medical visualization of a single human testicle with a wedge removed to see the interior; also visible is the epididymis, pampiniform venous plexus, and the testicular artery. The testes are the male gonads, and perform two functions: to manufacture motile sperm and produce male sex hormones, namely testosterone. The center of the testis contains the seminiferous tubules (arranged in lobes that radiate from a central plexus) where sperm production, or spermatogenesis, occurs. Resting directly on top of the testis is a single convoluted tube called the epididymis, where sperm are stored while they mature. Upon ejaculation, sperm enter the vas deferens and leave the penis through the urethra. Leydig cells, which reside in the testis, produce male sex hormones called androgens. The androgen testosterone develops secondary sexual characteristics and maintains sperm development sites. The pampiniform venous plexus and the testicular artery service the testicular area.
The male gonads, testes or testicles, begin their development high in the abdominal cavity, near the kidneys. During the last two months before birth, or shortly after birth, they descend through the inguinal canal into the scrotum, a pouch that extends below the abdomen, posterior to the penis. Although this location of the testes, outside the abdominal cavity, may seem to make them vulnerable to injury, it provides a temperature about 3° C below normal body temperature. This lower temperature is necessary for the production of viable sperm.
The scrotum consists of skin and subcutaneous tissue. A vertical septum, or partition, of subcutaneous tissue in the center divides it into two parts, each containing one testis. Smooth muscle fibers, called the dartos muscle, in the subcutaneous tissue contract to give the scrotum its wrinkled appearance. When these fibers are relaxed, the scrotum is smooth. Another muscle, the cremaster muscle, consists of skeletal muscle fibers and controls the position of the scrotum and testes. When it is cold or a man is sexually aroused, this muscle contracts to pull the testes closer to the body for warmth.
Each testis is an oval structure about 5 cm long and 3 cm in diameter. A tough, white fibrous connective tissue capsule, the tunica albuginea, surrounds each testis and extends inward to form septa that partition the organ into lobules. There are about 250 lobules in each testis. Each lobule contains 1 to 4 highly coiled seminiferous tubules that converge to form a single straight tubule, which leads into the rete testis. Short efferent ducts exit the testes. Interstitial cells (cells of Leydig), which produce male sex hormones, are located between the seminiferous tubules within a lobule.
The gonads, the primary reproductive organs, are the testes in the male and the ovaries in the female. These organs are responsible for producing the sperm and ova, but they also secrete hormones and are considered to be endocrine glands.
Male sex hormones, as a group, are called androgens. The principal androgen is testosterone, which is secreted by the testes. A small amount is also produced by the adrenal cortex. Production of testosterone begins during fetal development, continues for a short time after birth, nearly ceases during childhood, and then resumes at puberty. This steroid hormone is responsible for:
- The growth and development of the male reproductive structures
- Increased skeletal and muscular growth
- Enlargement of the larynx accompanied by voice changes
- Growth and distribution of body hair
- Increased male sexual drive
Testosterone secretion is regulated by a negative feedback system that involves releasing hormones from the hypothalamus and gonadotropins from the anterior pituitary.
The testes (singular = testis) are the male gonads-that is, the male reproductive organs. They produce both sperm and androgens, such as testosterone, and are active throughout the reproductive lifespan of the male.
Paired ovals, the testes are each approximately 4 to 5 cm in length and are housed within the scrotum (see Figure). They are surrounded by two distinct layers of protective connective tissue (Figure). The outer tunica vaginalis is a serous membrane that has both a parietal and a thin visceral layer. Beneath the tunica vaginalis is the tunica albuginea, a tough, white, dense connective tissue layer covering the testis itself. Not only does the tunica albuginea cover the outside of the testis, it also invaginates to form septa that divide the testis into 300 to 400 structures called lobules. Within the lobules, sperm develop in structures called seminiferous tubules. During the seventh month of the developmental period of a male fetus, each testis moves through the abdominal musculature to descend into the scrotal cavity. This is called the "descent of the testis." Cryptorchidism is the clinical term used when one or both of the testes fail to descend into the scrotum prior to birth.
The tightly coiled seminiferous tubules form the bulk of each testis. They are composed of developing sperm cells surrounding a lumen, the hollow center of the tubule, where formed sperm are released into the duct system of the testis. Specifically, from the lumens of the seminiferous tubules, sperm move into the straight tubules (or tubuli recti), and from there into a fine meshwork of tubules called the rete testes. Sperm leave the rete testes, and the testis itself, through the 15 to 20 efferent ductules that cross the tunica albuginea.
Inside the seminiferous tubules are six different cell types. These include supporting cells called sustentacular cells, as well as five types of developing sperm cells called germ cells. Germ cell development progresses from the basement membrane-at the perimeter of the tubule-toward the lumen. Let's look more closely at these cell types.
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The testicle or testis is the male gonad in animals. Like the ovaries to which they are homologous, the testicles (testes) are components of both the reproductive system and the endocrine system. The primary functions of the testes are to produce sperm (spermatogenesis) and to produce androgens, primarily testosterone.
Both functions of the testicle are influenced by gonadotropic hormones produced by the anterior pituitary. Luteinizing hormone (LH) results in testosterone release. The presence of both testosterone and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is needed to support spermatogenesis. It has also been shown in animal studies that if testes are exposed to either too high or too low levels of estrogens (such as estradiol; E2) spermatogenesis can be disrupted to such an extent that the animals become infertile.
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