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Composition of Semen and What Does it Tell Us about the Male?

Human semen is composed of cellular (spermatozoa, urogenital epithelial cells, round cells) and non-cellular components. Round cells may be either leukocytes or spermatogenic cells. The male reproductive tract and accessory glands secrete non-cellular substances in semen. Only bilateral changes (i.e. agenesis) cause changes. The bulbourethral glands secrete alkaline glycoprotein which neutralizes the urinary tract and lubricates the distal urethra. The prostate produces Zinc, citric acid, prostatic acid phosphatase. Zinc may protect the sperm chromatin condensation from becoming superstabilized as a result of excessive disulfide bond crosslinking of the protamines. Prostate specific antigen (PSA) may be decreased with prostate dysfunction and may be noted with non-liquifaction of seminal plasma with semen analysis. (1). Diminished citric acid concentration will raise semen pH and is a marker of prostate disease. The seminal vesicles produce prostaglandins and fructose. Low fructose indicates agenesis or dysfunction of the seminal vesicles or ejaculatory ducts. Alpha-glucosidase, L-carnitine, myoinositol and glycerophosphocholine are markers of epididymal function (2). Alpha-glucosidase provides information about the epididymis and is decreased in obstructions between epididymis and ejaculatory duct, hypoandrogenism, and during and after inflammation (1).

The semen analysis may detect infection. Pain, fever, and bleeding are signs of infection. Excessive WBCs (white blood cells, pyospermia) in semen indicate infection. Seminal lymphocytes and macrophages appear to originate mainly from the epididymis and rete testis. Granulocytes come from the prostate and seminal vesicles primarily (3). Peroxidase staining indicates WBCs rather than immature germ cells. Staining is with benzidene cyanosine , florescein- conjugated antiperoxidase antibody, or PAP smear staining. Several techniques are available to isolate the site of the infection. The split ejaculate is most helpful. The 1st sample is from the urethral and paraurethral glands; 2nd epididymal and testes secretion; 3rd the prostate contribution. The last part contains secretions from the seminal vesicles. Prostatic massage can also express bacteria and leukocytes from this source. Bacteria that may be found include gram-negative bacilli (Escherichia coli, most common), Enterococci, Staphylocci, Neisseria gonorrhea, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Mycoplasma, and Ureaplasma, Chlamydia, Trichomonas and Candida. Activated granulocytes release reactive oxygen species (i.e. superoxide anion, H2O2 and hydroxyl radical) and H2O2 can be converted to hypochloric acid ((HOCl) which damage sperm (3). ROS may disrupt sperm membranes and sperm DNA. ROS decrease polyunsaturated fatty acids in sperm membranes and reduce membrane fluidity (1). Proteases (i.e. peroxidase, elastase, lysozyme, elastase) may also be released and are found in semen. Cytokines (IL-8, IL-1) may b e present and exert a negative effect on fertilizing capacity. Antisperm antibodies may also be found in semen with WBCs, but this is not a universal finding (Wolff, 1995). They may be of significance in men with a vasectomy reversal where the immune privilege status of the testes have been damaged.

References:

1. Comhaire FH, Mahmoud AMA, Depuydt CE, Zalata AA, Christophe AB. Mechanisms and effects of male genital tract infection on sperm quality and fertilizing potential: the adrologistís viewpoint. 1999. Hum. Reprod. Update 5(5): 393-398.

2. Cooper TG, Yeung C-H. Physiology of sperm maturation and function. In Andrology, Male reproductive health and dysfunction. Eds E. Nieschlag and HM Behre. 1997. Springer, Berlin. Pp 61-76.

3. Wolff H. The biological significance of white blood cells in semen. 1995. Fertil. Steril. 63(6):1143-57.
 

 

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