The Human Body

Gonads

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Structure of Human Gonads
Gonads—in the male, the testes (singular, testis), and in the female, the ovaries—are the organs that produce gametes and sex hormones. The male gamete is the spermatozoan, produced by cell division in the seminiferous tubules of the adult testes. Typically, several hundred million sperm reach maturity in the epididymis and are stored in the vas deferens each day. Whatever is not released in ejaculation is reabsorbed, part of a continuous cycle. In the female, the ovaries produce eggs, or ova. At birth, about 2 million oocytes, or immature eggs, are present in the ovaries. Once the female reaches puberty, one egg matures approximately every 28 days inside a saclike Graafian follicle. Ovulation occurs when the mature egg bursts from the follicle and the ovary, beginning its journey down the fallopian tube toward the uterus.

Organs that contain germ cells which later develop into male gametes or spermatozoa are known as testes or male gonads. Organs that contain germ cells which later develop into female gametes, eggs, or ova are known as ovaries.

In most higher mammals, including the human male, the testes are always enclosed in an external scrotum. During fetal life, the testes move through the muscles composing the posterior, ventral portion of the trunk and carry with them the portion of the peritoneum and skin surrounding these muscles. The channel in the muscles through which the testis moves is known as the inguinal canal; it usually closes after birth, but sometimes remains open and is then often the site of herniation (see Hernia). The portion of the peritoneum that the testis carries with it forms a double wall of membrane between the scrotum and testis and is known as the tunica vaginalis. Occasionally, the testes in the human male do not descend into the scrotal sac; this condition of nondescent, which is known as cryptorchidism, may result in sterility if not corrected by surgery or the administration of hormones. Retention of the testes within the body cavity subjects the germ cells to temperatures that are too high for their normal development; the descent of the testes into the scrotum in higher animals keeps the testes at optimum temperatures.

Unlike germ cells in the testis, female germ cells originate as single cells in the embryonic tissue that later develops into an ovary. At maturity, after the production of ova from the female germ cells, groups of ovary cells surrounding each ovum develop into “follicle cells” that secrete nutriment for the contained egg. As the ovum is prepared for release during the breeding season, the tissue surrounding the ovum hollows out and becomes filled with fluid and at the same time moves to the surface of the ovary; this mass of tissue, fluid, and ovum is known as a Graafian follicle. The ovary of the adult is merely a mass of glandular and connective tissue containing numerous Graafian follicles at various stages of maturity. When the Graafian follicle is completely mature, it bursts through the surface of the ovary, releasing the ovum, which is then ready for fertilization; the release of the ovum from the ovary is known as ovulation. The space formerly occupied by the Graafian follicle is filled by a blood clot known as the corpus hemorrhagicum; in four or five days this clot is replaced by a mass of yellow cells known as the corpus luteum, which secretes hormones playing an important part in preparation of the uterus for the reception of a fertilized ovum. If the ovum goes unfertilized, the corpus luteum is eventually replaced by scar tissue known as the corpus albicans. The ovary is located in the body cavity, attached to the peritoneum that lines this cavity.

The functioning of both male and female gonads is under the hormonal influence of the pituitary gland.