Semen Physiology

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

In all species semen carries sperm into the reproductive tract of the female to facilitate fertilizations.

In some species the fertilization may take place externally. In external fertilization, the sperm fertilize the ova directly, outside of the female's sexual organs. Several fish achieve fertilization this way.

The internal fertilization is more common among mammals like humans. In this the fertilization occurs inside the female's sexual organs. The male needs to ejaculate and deposit the semen within the female reproductive tract through copulation. The sperms swim into the tract towards the waiting ova and fertilize it.

Human semen


Composition

Most of the fluid in semen is made up of secretions from male reproductive organs. Semen contains citric acid, free amino acids, fructose, enzymes, phosphorylcholine, prostaglandin, potassium, and zinc.

  • 46 to 80 per cent of the fluid is produced by the seminal vesicles
  • 13 to 33 per cent by the prostate gland
  • 5 per cent from the testicles and epididymis
  • 2-5 percent from Bulbourethral and urethral glands

Normal semen sample

Normal semen has certain characteristics. These can be broken down into appearance, volume, smell and so forth.

Appearance of human semen

A normal sample has a grey-opalescent appearance. If left open for a while the semen initially clots or coagulates over the first hour and then it becomes liquefied.

Volume

A usual semen volume per ejaculate is around 2 to 3 ml or more. Sperm constitute approximately 10% of semen volume.

Smell

A chlorine smell or fishy odour in semen is normal.

Taste

Semen tastes slightly sweet due to a high content of fructose. The taste of semen tends to change slightly from person to person and may be affected by diet.

pH of semen

The pH range should be 7.2 to 7.8. This is the normal pH of the body. If the pH is lower than 7.2, it may mean that there is a low sperm counts or malformations in the reproductive tract. If the pH is above 7.8, it may indicate a urinary tract infection.

Sperm concentration

The normal range of sperm in semen samples is 20 million/ml or more and a total count of 40 million or more.

Motility and viability

The sperm need to be moving and living in order to achieve successful fertilization. For the man to be fertile at least 50 % of the spermatozoa observed need to be active. The movement of the sperms are in a straight-line one hour after ejaculation.

Morphology or structure of sperm

After release, the sperm are matured in the seminiferious tubule to mature oval-shaped spermatozoa and have an acromsomal cap. In the semen some cells show different stages of maturity. Some have tapering heads; pinheads, round heads etc. These are not mature sperms. A semen sample usually contains 50% or more normal sperms.

White blood cells in semen

This may indicate a urinary or genital tract infection.

Fructose

Fructose is the largest component of semen. Absence of fructose in semen means there is an obstruction or absence of the vas deferens.

Development of the sperm

The spermatozoa take over 70 days to develop and are produced solely in the testicles. Individual sperm develop within the testicles from a cell called a spermatogonium. These divide to form spermatocytes, which then develop into spermatids.

Spermatids have tail and the cell gradually acquires the ability to move by beating its tail. The spermatid eventually develops into a mature spermatozoa. This process takes about 60 days. Another 10 to 14 days are needed to pass through the ducts of each testicle and the epididymis, before it can leave the body in the semen, during ejaculation.

Semen Analysis

Inability to fertilize the ova leads to infertility in a couple. In these cases the semen from the male partner is collected for analysis.

Semen analysis is the most important single item in the evaluation of male infertility. It is a simple and inexpensive clinical test. The World Health Organization (WHO) gives out criteria for semen analysis to detect abnormalities in the semen of the male partner contributing to infertility.

Normal semen and sperm qualities according to the World Health Organization are:

  • there should be at least 20 million sperms per ml for fertility
  • the total volume of semen should be at least 2ml
  • per ejaculate at least 40 million sperms should be present
  • at least 30 per cent of the sperms should be mature and developed
  • at least 75 per cent of the spermatozoa should be alive or viable
  • at least 25 per cent of the sperms should be swimming with rapid forward movement
  • at least 50 per cent of the sperms should be swimming even if it is sluggish

Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Sources

  1. http://www.infertilityeducation.org/pdf/Semen%20Analysis.pdf
  2. http://ebooks.cambridge.org/chapter.jsf?bid=CBO9780511997402&cid=CBO9780511997402A008
  3. http://menshealth.about.com/cs/stds/a/about_semen_3.htm
  4. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/menshealth/facts/semenandsperm.htm
  5. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2010/9789241547789_eng.pdf
  6. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/infertility/cooper_et_al_hru.pdf

Further Reading

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Comments
  1. Dov Henis Dov Henis Israel says:

    Decreasing Human Sperm Viability


    A. Intelligent Life
    Life is an evolving system continuously undergoing natural selection i.e. continuously selecting, intelligently, opportunities to augment its energy constraint in order to survive i.e. in order to avoid its own mass format being re-converted to energy.

    B. From
    universe-life.com/.../
    I grow several fruits. Fruit trees are brainless, mindless, of low intelligence,  i.e. low extent of traits acquired by experience.

    A fruit tree sprouts, starts producing many units of the fruit, of which only a small fraction complete their growth, of which in nature only few, if any at all,  evolve into trees to reproduce the fruit-tree genes. This is the genes reproduction mode of the less intelligent organisms, i.e. of the organisms less learned by experience. Plants are stationary, with lesser learning opportunities than mobile organisms. For survival in nature they depend on producing great numbers of progenies.

    Observe/ponder other organisms including human cultural phenotypes and draw survival conclusions re the relationship between their intelligence and the number of their progenies…

    Sentience, the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences, holds for every organism. In essence it is the reaction of the organism to its circumstances. Now note : genes are organisms,  life’s primal organisms;  genetics is the progeny of culture, culture is response-reaction to circumstances, the extent and nature of genetics of an organism, of its genome, are proportional to the extent of survival challenges that its historical phenotype has been facing and to the extent of its resultant genome-neural constitution-history…

    Now, Is it genetics that drive biological and cultural modifications?
    NO. It is culture that modifies genetics, not genetics that modifies culture. Culture modifies genetics simply via the evolutionary intelligent natural selection process of the RNA ORGANISMS. Likewise many natural genetic changes are due to aging and/or circumstantial effects on the genes and/or genomes ORGANISMS, similar to aging and/or evolutionary processes in mono-cell communities (cultures) or in multi-celled organisms.

    SCIENCE SHOULD UNFREEZE. SHOULD ADJUST ITS VISION, COMPREHENSION, CONCEPTS BEYOND AAAS TRADE-UNION-RELIGION, should apply Darwinism and Pavlovism to genes-genomes ORGANISMS.

    C. From
    universe-life.com/.../
    “Page’s team compared human and chimp Ys to see whether either lineage has lost functional genes since they split. The researchers found that the chimp had indeed suffered the slings and arrows of evolutionary fortune. Of the 16 functional genes in this part of the human Y, chimps had lost the function of five due to mutations. In contrast, humans had all 11 functional genes also seen on the chimp Y.”  “The human Y chromosome hasn’t lost a gene in 6 million years,” says Page. “It seems like the demise of the hypothesis of the demise of the Y.”

    Now, our genes and genomes are ORGANISMS. They continuously monitor the natural selection efficiency of our sperms versus the energetic costs of endowing them with their viability, and by thus this intelligent natural-selection process they select their expressions, with higher competence than some scientists…

    D. Whose Sperm Decreases Viability
    I’d reckon-expect that members of the historically now Western cultural phenotype would exhibit most pronounced sperm viability decrease due to their older-farther departure from natural selection by adaptation and adoption of pragmatic modifying of their circumstances, instead.

    Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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