Abnormal infertile sperm, compared with a normal sperm on the right.

Effect of Temperature on Spermatogenesis. Increasing the temperature of the testes can prevent spermatogenesis by causing degeneration of most cells of the seminiferous tubules besides the spermatogonia. It has often been stated that the reason the testes are located in the dangling scrotum is to maintain the temperature of these glands below the internal temperature of the body, although usually only about 2°C below the internal temperature. On cold days, scrotal reflexes cause the musculature of the scrotum to contract, pulling the testes close to the body to maintain this 2° differential. Thus, the scrotum theoretically acts as a cooling mechanism for the testes (but a controlled cooling), without which spermatogenesis might be deficient during hot weather.


Cryptorchidism means failure of a testis to descend from the abdomen into the scrotum at or near the time of birth of a fetus. During development of the male fetus, the testes are derived from the genital ridges in the abdomen. However, at about 3 weeks to 1 month before birth of the baby, the testes normally descend through the inguinal canals into the scrotum. Occasionally this descent does not occur or occurs incompletely, so that one or both testes remain in the abdomen, in the inguinal canal, or elsewhere along the route of descent.

A testis that remains throughout life in the abdominal cavity is incapable of forming sperm. The tubular epithelium becomes degenerate, leaving only the interstitial structures of the testis. It has been claimed that even the few degrees' higher temperature in the abdomen than in the scrotum is sufficient to cause this degeneration of the tubular epithelium and, consequently, to cause sterility, although this is not certain. Nevertheless, for this reason, operations to relocate the cryptorchid testes from the abdominal cavity into the scrotum before the beginning of adult sexual life are frequently performed on boys who have undescended testes.

Testosterone secretion by the fetal testes themselves is the normal stimulus that causes the testes to descend into the scrotum from the abdomen. Therefore, many, if not most, instances of cryptorchidism are caused by abnormally formed testes that are unable to secrete enough testosterone. The surgical operation for cryp-torchidism in these patients is unlikely to be successful.

Effect of Sperm Count on Fertility. The usual quantity of semen ejaculated during each coitus averages about 3.5 milliliters, and in each milliliter of semen is an average of about 120 million sperm, although even in "normal" males this can vary from 35 million to 200 million. This means an average total of 400 million sperm are usually present in the several milliliters of each ejaculate. When the number of sperm in each milliliter falls below about 20 million, the person is likely to be infertile. Thus, even though only a single sperm is necessary to fertilize the ovum, for reasons not understood, the ejaculate usually must contain a tremendous number of sperm for only one sperm to fertilize the ovum.

Effect of Sperm Morphology and Motility on Fertility. Occasionally a man has a normal number of sperm but is still infertile. When this occurs, sometimes as many as one half the sperm are found to be abnormal physically, having two heads, abnormally shaped heads, or abnormal tails, as shown in Figure 80-5. At other times, the sperm appear to be structurally normal, but for reasons not understood, they are either entirely nonmotile or relatively nonmotile. Whenever the majority of the sperm are morphologically abnormal or are nonmotile, the person is likely to be infertile, even though the remainder of the sperm appear to be normal.

Male Sexual Act

Neuronal Stimulus for Performance of the Male Sexual Act

The most important source of sensory nerve signals for initiating the male sexual act is the glans penis. The glans contains an especially sensitive sensory endorgan system that transmits into the central nervous system that special modality of sensation called sexual sensation. The slippery massaging action of intercourse on the glans stimulates the sensory end-organs, and the

Figure 80-6

Erectile tissue of the penis.

Figure 80-6

Erectile tissue of the penis.

sexual signals in turn pass through the pudendal nerve, then through the sacral plexus into the sacral portion of the spinal cord, and finally up the cord to undefined areas of the brain.

Impulses may also enter the spinal cord from areas adjacent to the penis to aid in stimulating the sexual act. For instance, stimulation of the anal epithelium, the scrotum, and perineal structures in general can send signals into the cord that add to the sexual sensation. Sexual sensations can even originate in internal structures, such as in areas of the urethra, bladder, prostate, seminal vesicles, testes, and vas deferens. Indeed, one of the causes of "sexual drive" is filling of the sexual organs with secretions. Mild infection and inflammation of these sexual organs sometimes cause almost continual sexual desire, and some "aphrodisiac" drugs, such as cantharidin, increase sexual desire by irritating the bladder and urethral mucosa, inducing inflammation and vascular congestion.

Psychic Element of Male Sexual Stimulation. Appropriate psychic stimuli can greatly enhance the ability of a person to perform the sexual act. Simply thinking sexual thoughts or even dreaming that the act of intercourse is being performed can initiate the male act, culminating in ejaculation. Indeed, nocturnal emissions during dreams occur in many males during some stages of sexual life, especially during the teens.

Integration of the Male Sexual Act in the Spinal Cord.

Although psychic factors usually play an important part in the male sexual act and can initiate or inhibit it, brain function is probably not necessary for its performance because appropriate genital stimulation can cause ejaculation in some animals and occasionally in humans after their spinal cords have been cut above the lumbar region. The male sexual act results from inherent reflex mechanisms integrated in the sacral and lumbar spinal cord, and these mechanisms can be initiated by either psychic stimulation from the brain or actual sexual stimulation from the sex organs, but usually it is a combination of both.

Stages of the Male Sexual Act

Penile Erection—Role of the Parasympathetic Nerves. Penile erection is the first effect of male sexual stimulation, and the degree of erection is proportional to the degree of stimulation, whether psychic or physical. Erection is caused by parasympathetic impulses that pass from the sacral portion of the spinal cord through the pelvic nerves to the penis. These parasympathetic nerve fibers, in contrast to most other parasympathetic fibers, are believed to release nitric oxide and/or vasoactive intestinal peptide in addition to acetyl-choline. The nitric oxide especially relaxes the arteries of the penis, as well as relaxes the trabecular mesh-work of smooth muscle fibers in the erectile tissue of the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum in the shaft of the penis, shown in Figure 80-6.

This erectile tissue consists of large cavernous sinusoids, which are normally relatively empty of blood but become dilated tremendously when arterial blood flows rapidly into them under pressure while the venous outflow is partially occluded. Also, the erectile bodies, especially the two corpora cavernosa, are surrounded by strong fibrous coats; therefore, high pressure within the sinusoids causes ballooning of the erectile tissue to such an extent that the penis becomes hard and elongated. This is the phenomenon of erection.

Lubrication, a Parasympathetic Function. During sexual stimulation, the parasympathetic impulses, in addition to promoting erection, cause the urethral glands and the bulbourethral glands to secrete mucus. This mucus flows through the urethra during intercourse to aid in the lubrication during coitus. However, most of the lubrication of coitus is provided by the female sexual organs rather than by the male. Without satisfactory lubrication, the male sexual act is seldom successful because unlubricated intercourse causes grating, painful sensations that inhibit rather than excite sexual sensations.

Emission and Ejaculation—Function of the Sympathetic Nerves. Emission and ejaculation are the culmination of the male sexual act. When the sexual stimulus becomes extremely intense, the reflex centers of the spinal cord begin to emit sympathetic impulses that leave the cord at T-12 to L-2 and pass to the genital organs through the hypogastric and pelvic sympathetic nerve plexuses to initiate emission, the forerunner of ejaculation.

Emission begins with contraction of the vas defer-ens and the ampulla to cause expulsion of sperm into the internal urethra. Then, contractions of the muscular coat of the prostate gland followed by contraction of the seminal vesicles expel prostatic and seminal fluid also into the urethra, forcing the sperm forward. All these fluids mix in the internal urethra with mucus already secreted by the bulbourethral glands to form the semen. The process to this point is emission.

The filling of the internal urethra with semen elicits sensory signals that are transmitted through the pudendal nerves to the sacral regions of the cord, giving the feeling of sudden fullness in the internal genital organs. Also, these sensory signals further excite rhythmical contraction of the internal genital organs and cause contraction of the ischiocavernosus and bulbocavernosus muscles that compress the bases of the penile erectile tissue. These effects together cause rhythmical, wavelike increases in pressure in both the erectile tissue of the penis and the genital ducts and urethra, which "ejaculate" the semen from the urethra to the exterior. This final process is called ejaculation. At the same time, rhythmical contractions of the pelvic muscles and even of some of the muscles of the body trunk cause thrusting movements of the pelvis and penis, which also help propel the semen into the deepest recesses of the vagina and perhaps even slightly into the cervix of the uterus.

This entire period of emission and ejaculation is called the male orgasm. At its termination, the male sexual excitement disappears almost entirely within 1 to 2 minutes and erection ceases, a process called resolution.

Testosterone and Other Male Sex Hormones

Secretion, Metabolism, and Chemistry of the Male Sex Hormone

Secretion of Testosterone by the Interstitial Cells of Leydig in the Testes. The testes secrete several male sex hormones, which are collectively called androgens, including testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, and androstenedione. Testosterone is so much more abundant than the others that one can consider it to be the significant testicular hormone, although as we shall see, much, if not most, of the testosterone is eventually converted into the more active hormone dihy-drotestosterone in the target tissues.

Testosterone is formed by the interstitial cells of Leydig, which lie in the interstices between the seminiferous tubules and constitute about 20 per cent of the mass of the adult testes, as shown in Figure 80-7. Leydig cells are almost nonexistent in the testes during childhood when the testes secrete almost no testosterone, but they are numerous in the newborn male infant for the first few months of life and in the adult male any time after puberty; at both these times the testes secrete large quantities of testosterone. Furthermore, when tumors develop from the interstitial cells of Leydig, great quantities of testosterone are secreted. Finally, when the germinal epithelium of the testes is destroyed by x-ray treatment or excessive heat, the Leydig cells, which are less easily destroyed, often continue to produce testosterone.

Secretion of Androgens Elsewhere in the Body. The term "androgen" means any steroid hormone that has masculinizing effects, including testosterone itself; it also includes male sex hormones produced elsewhere in the body besides the testes. For instance, the adrenal glands secrete at least five androgens, although the total masculinizing activity of all these is normally so slight (less

Figure 80-7

Interstitial cells of Leydig, the cells that secrete testosterone, located in the interstices between the seminiferous tubules.

than 5 per cent of the total in the adult male) that even in women they do not cause significant masculine characteristics, except for causing growth of pubic and axillary hair. But when an adrenal tumor of the adrenal androgen-producing cells occurs, the quantity of androgenic hormones may then become great enough to cause all the usual male secondary sexual characteristics to occur even in the female. These effects are described in connection with the adrenogenital syndrome in Chapter 77.

Rarely, embryonic rest cells in the ovary can develop into a tumor that produces excessive quantities of androgens in women; one such tumor is the arrhenoblastoma. The normal ovary also produces minute quantities of androgens, but they are not significant.

Chemistry of the Androgens. All androgens are steroid compounds, as shown by the formulas in Figure 80-8 for testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. Both in the testes and in the adrenals, the androgens can be synthesized either from cholesterol or directly from acetyl coen-zyme A.

Metabolism of Testosterone. After secretion by the testes, about 97 per cent of the testosterone becomes either loosely bound with plasma albumin or more tightly bound with a beta globulin called sex hormone-binding globulin and circulates in the blood in these states for 30 minutes to several hours. By that time, the testosterone either is transferred to the tissues or is degraded into inactive products that are subsequently excreted.

Much of the testosterone that becomes fixed to the tissues is converted within the tissue cells to dihy-drotestosterone, especially in certain target organs such as the prostate gland in the adult and the external genitalia of the male fetus. Some actions of testosterone are dependent on this conversion, whereas other actions are not. The intracellular functions are discussed later in the chapter.

Figure 80-8

Testosterone and dihydrotestosterone.

Figure 80-8

Testosterone and dihydrotestosterone.

Degradation and Excretion of Testosterone. The testosterone that does not become fixed to the tissues is rapidly converted, mainly by the liver, into androsterone and dehy-droepiandrosterone and simultaneously conjugated as either glucuronides or sulfates (glucuronides, particularly). These are excreted either into the gut by way of the liver bile or into the urine through the kidneys.

Production of Estrogen in the Male. In addition to testosterone, small amounts of estrogens are formed in the male (about one fifth the amount in the nonpregnant female), and a reasonable quantity of estrogens can be recovered from a man's urine.The exact source of estrogens in the male is unclear, but the following are known: (1) the concentration of estrogens in the fluid of the seminiferous tubules is quite high and probably plays an important role in spermiogenesis. This estrogen is believed to be formed by the Sertoli cells by converting testosterone to estradiol. (2) Much larger amounts of estrogens are formed from testosterone and androstanediol in other tissues of the body, especially the liver, probably accounting for as much as 80 per cent of the total male estrogen production.

Functions of Testosterone

In general, testosterone is responsible for the distinguishing characteristics of the masculine body. Even during fetal life, the testes are stimulated by chorionic gonadotropin from the placenta to produce moderate quantities of testosterone throughout the entire period of fetal development and for 10 or more weeks after birth; thereafter, essentially no testosterone is produced during childhood until about the ages of 10 to 13 years. Then testosterone production increases rapidly under the stimulus of anterior pituitary gonadotropic hormones at the onset of puberty and lasts throughout most of the remainder of life, as shown in Figure 80-9, dwindling rapidly beyond age 50 to become 20 to 50 per cent of the peak value by age 80.

Functions of Testosterone During Fetal Development

Testosterone begins to be elaborated by the male fetal testes at about the seventh week of embryonic life. Indeed, one of the major functional differences between the female and the male sex chromosome is that the male chromosome causes the newly developing genital ridge to secrete testosterone, whereas the female chromosome causes this ridge to secrete estrogens. Injection of large quantities of male sex hormone into pregnant animals causes development of male sexual organs even though the fetus is female. Also, removal of the testes in the early male fetus causes development of female sexual organs.

Thus, testosterone secreted first by the genital ridges and later by the fetal testes is responsible for the development of the male body characteristics, including the formation of a penis and a scrotum rather than formation of a clitoris and a vagina. Also, it causes formation of the prostate gland, seminal vesicles, and male genital ducts, while at the same time suppressing the formation of female genital organs.

Effect of Testosterone to Cause Descent of the Testes. The testes usually descend into the scrotum during the last 2 to 3 months of gestation when the testes begin secreting reasonable quantities of testosterone. If a male child is born with undescended but otherwise normal testes, the administration of testosterone usually causes the testes to descend in the usual manner if the inguinal canals are large enough to allow the testes to pass.

Administration of gonadotropic hormones, which stimulate the Leydig cells of the newborn child's testes to produce testosterone, can also cause the testes to descend. Thus, the stimulus for descent of the testes is testosterone, indicating again that testosterone is an important hormone for male sexual development during fetal life.

Effect of Testosterone on Development of Adult Primary and Secondary Sexual Characteristics

After puberty, the increasing amounts of testosterone secretion cause the penis, scrotum, and testes to enlarge about eightfold before the age of 20 years. In addition, testosterone causes the secondary sexual characteristics of the male to develop, beginning at puberty and ending at maturity. These secondary sexual characteristics, in addition to the sexual organs themselves, distinguish the male from the female as follows.

Effect on the Distribution of Body Hair. Testosterone causes growth of hair (1) over the pubis, (2) upward along the linea alba of the abdomen sometimes to the umbilicus and above, (3) on the face, (4) usually on the chest, and (5) less often on other regions of the body, such as the back. It also causes the hair on most other portions of the body to become more prolific.

Baldness. Testosterone decreases the growth of hair on the top of the head; a man who does not have func

Figure 80-9

The different stages of male sexual function as reflected by average plasma testosterone concentrations (red line) and sperm production (blue line) at different ages. (Modified from Griffin JF, Wilson JD: The testis. In: Bondy PK, Rosenberg LE [eds]: Metabolic Control and Disease, 8th ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1980.)

Figure 80-9

The different stages of male sexual function as reflected by average plasma testosterone concentrations (red line) and sperm production (blue line) at different ages. (Modified from Griffin JF, Wilson JD: The testis. In: Bondy PK, Rosenberg LE [eds]: Metabolic Control and Disease, 8th ed. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1980.)

tional testes does not become bald. However, many virile men never become bald because baldness is a result of two factors: first, a genetic background for the development of baldness and, second, superimposed on this genetic background, large quantities of androgenic hormones. A woman who has the appropriate genetic background and who develops a long-sustained androgenic tumor becomes bald in the same manner as does a man.

Effect on the Voice. Testosterone secreted by the testes or injected into the body causes hypertrophy of the laryngeal mucosa and enlargement of the larynx. The effects cause at first a relatively discordant, "cracking" voice, but this gradually changes into the typical adult masculine voice.

Testosterone Increases Thickness of the Skin and Can Contribute to Development of Acne. Testosterone increases the thickness of the skin over the entire body and increases the ruggedness of the subcutaneous tissues. Testosterone also increases the rate of secretion by some or perhaps all the body's sebaceous glands. Especially important is excessive secretion by the sebaceous glands of the face, because this can result in acne. Therefore, acne is one of the most common features of male adolescence when the body is first becoming introduced to increased testosterone. After several years of testosterone secretion, the skin normally adapts to the testosterone in a way that allows it to overcome the acne.

Testosterone Increases Protein Formation and Muscle Development. One of the most important male characteristics is development of increasing musculature after puberty, averaging about a 50 per cent increase in muscle mass over that in the female. This is associated with increased protein in the nonmuscle parts of the body as well. Many of the changes in the skin are due to deposition of proteins in the skin, and the changes in the voice also result partly from this protein anabolic function of testosterone.

Because of the great effect that testosterone and other androgens have on the body musculature, synthetic androgens are widely used by athletes to improve their muscular performance. This practice is to be severely deprecated because of prolonged harmful effects of excess androgens, as we discuss in Chapter 84 in relation to sports physiology. Testosterone or synthetic androgens are also occasionally used in old age as a "youth hormone" to improve muscle strength and vigor, but with questionable results.

Testosterone Increases Bone Matrix and Causes Calcium Retention. After the great increase in circulating testosterone that occurs at puberty (or after prolonged injection of testosterone), the bones grow considerably thicker and deposit considerable additional calcium salts. Thus, testosterone increases the total quantity of bone matrix and causes calcium retention. The increase in bone matrix is believed to result from the general protein anabolic function of testosterone plus deposition of calcium salts in response to the increased protein.

Testosterone has a specific effect on the pelvis to (1) narrow the pelvic outlet, (2) lengthen it, (3) cause a funnel-like shape instead of the broad ovoid shape of the female pelvis, and (4) greatly increase the strength of the entire pelvis for load-bearing. In the absence of testosterone, the male pelvis develops into a pelvis that is similar to that of the female.

Because of the ability of testosterone to increase the size and strength of bones, it is often used in older men to treat osteoporosis.

When great quantities of testosterone (or any other androgen) are secreted abnormally in the still-growing child, the rate of bone growth increases markedly, causing a spurt in total body height. However, the testosterone also causes the epiphyses of the long bones to unite with the shafts of the bones at an early age. Therefore, despite the rapidity of growth, this early uniting of the epiphyses prevents the person from growing as tall as he would have grown had testosterone not been secreted at all. Even in normal men, the final adult height is slightly less than that which occurs in males castrated before puberty.

Testosterone Increases Basal Metabolism. Injection of large quantities of testosterone can increase the basal metabolic rate by as much as 15 per cent. Also, even the usual quantity of testosterone secreted by the testes during adolescence and early adult life increases the rate of metabolism some 5 to 10 per cent above the value that it would be were the testes not active. This increased rate of metabolism is possibly an indirect result of the effect of testosterone on protein anabolism, the increased quantity of proteins—the enzymes especially—increasing the activities of all cells.

Effect on Red Blood Cells. When normal quantities of testosterone are injected into a castrated adult, the number of red blood cells per cubic millimeter of blood increases 15 to 20 per cent. Also, the average man has about 700,000 more red blood cells per cubic millimeter than the average woman. This difference may be due partly to the increased metabolic rate that occurs after testosterone administration rather than to a direct effect of testosterone on red blood cell production.

Effect on Electrolyte and Water Balance. As pointed out in Chapter 77, many steroid hormones can increase the reabsorption of sodium in the distal tubules of the kidneys. Testosterone also has such an effect, but only to a minor degree in comparison with the adrenal min-eralocorticoids. Nevertheless, after puberty, the blood and extracellular fluid volumes of the male in relation to body weight increase as much as 5 to 10 per cent.

Basic Intracellular Mechanism of Action of Testosterone

Most of the effects of testosterone result basically from increased rate of protein formation in the target cells. This has been studied extensively in the prostate gland, one of the organs that is most affected by testosterone. In this gland, testosterone enters the prostatic cells within a few minutes after secretion. Then it is most often converted, under the influence of the intracellular enzyme 5a-reductase, to dihydrotestos-terone, and this in turn binds with a cytoplasmic "receptor protein." This combination migrates to the cell nucleus, where it binds with a nuclear protein and induces DNA-RNA transcription. Within 30 minutes, RNA polymerase has become activated and the concentration of RNA begins to increase in the prostatic cells; this is followed by progressive increase in cellular protein. After several days, the quantity of DNA

in the prostate gland has also increased and there has been a simultaneous increase in the number of prostatic cells.

Testosterone stimulates production of proteins virtually everywhere in the body, although more specifically affecting those proteins in "target" organs or tissues responsible for the development of both primary and secondary male sexual characteristics.

Recent studies suggest that testosterone, like other steroidal hormones, may also exert some rapid, non-genomic effects that do not require synthesis of new proteins. The physiological role of these nongenomic actions of testosterone, however, has yet to be determined.

Control of Male Sexual Functions by Hormones from the Hypothalamus and Anterior Pituitary Gland

A major share of the control of sexual functions in both the male and the female begins with secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) by the hypothalamus (see Figure 80-10). This hormone in turn stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to secrete two other hormones called gonadotropic hormones: (1) luteinizing hormone (LH) and (2) follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). In turn, LH is the primary stimulus for the secretion of testosterone by the testes, and FSH mainly stimulates spermatogenesis.

GnRH and Its Effect in Increasing the Secretion of LH and FSH

GnRH is a 10-amino acid peptide secreted by neurons whose cell bodies are located in the arcuate nuclei of the hypothalamus. The endings of these neurons terminate mainly in the median eminence of the hypothalamus, where they release GnRH into the hypothalamic-hypophysial portal vascular system. Then the GnRH is transported to the anterior pituitary gland in the hypophysial portal blood and stimulates the release of the two gonadotropins, LH and FSH.

GnRH is secreted intermittently a few minutes at a time once every 1 to 3 hours. The intensity of this hormone's stimulus is determined in two ways: (1) by the frequency of these cycles of secretion and (2) by the quantity of GnRH released with each cycle.

The secretion of LH by the anterior pituitary gland is also cyclical, with LH following fairly faithfully the pulsatile release of GnRH. Conversely, FSH secretion increases and decreases only slightly with each fluctuation of GnRH secretion; instead, it changes more slowly over a period of many hours in response to longer-term changes in GnRH. Because of the much closer relation between GnRH secretion and LH secretion, GnRH is also widely known as LH-releasing hormone.

Gonadotropic Hormones: LH and FSH

Both of the gonadotropic hormones, LH and FSH, are secreted by the same cells, called gonadotropes, in the

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