Send to

Choose Destination
J Electron Microsc Tech. 1991 Oct;19(2):241-60.

Ultrastructure of the aging human testis.

Author information

Department of Cell Biology and Genetics, University of Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain.


The ultrastructure of the progressive testicular involution with advancing age in men is reviewed. There is no definite age at which testicular involution begins, and the onset and severity of testicular lesions are subjected to pronounced individual variations. Hormone studies also indicate great individual variations, and subtle changes in both the testis and the pituitary develop progressively with age. Testicular size, sperm quality, and numbers of all germ cell types, Sertoli cells, and Leydig cells decrease with age. The volume occupied by the seminiferous tubules decreases, whereas that occupied by the testicular interstitium remains constant. The most frequent histological pattern of the aging testis is a mosaic of different seminiferous tubule lesions, varying from tubules with complete, although reduced, spermatogenesis, to completely sclerosed tubules. The tubules with complete spermatogenesis may show numerous morphological abnormalities in the germ cells, including multinucleation. Abnormal germ cells degenerate causing Sertoli cell vacuolation. These vacuoles correspond to dilations of the extracellular spaces resulting from the premature exfoliation of germ cells. Degenerating cells that are phagocytosed by the Sertoli cells give rise to an accumulation of lipid droplets in the Sertoli cell cytoplasm. The loss of germ cells begins with the spermatids, but progressively affects the earlier germ cell types, and tubules with maturation arrest at the level of the spermatocytes or spermatogonia are observed. The Sertoli cells show morphological abnormalities such as dedifferentiation, mitochondrial metaplasia, and multinucleation. Germ cell loss is associated with thickening of the tunica propria. When all seminiferous epithelial cells have disappeared, only an intensely collagenized tunica propria with myoid cells remains (sclerosed tubules). The Leydig cells progressively dedifferentiate with a decrease in the quantity of both smooth endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria, together with an accumulation of lipid droplets, crystalline inclusions, and residual bodies, and formation of multinucleate cells. The development of tubular involution with age is similar to that observed after experimental ischemia, suggesting that vascular lesions may play an important role in age-related testicular atrophy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center