Sertoli Cells: Function & Concept

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  • 0:00 How are Sperm Cells Made?
  • 0:45 Sertoli Cell Function
  • 2:45 Sertoli Cell Tumors
  • 3:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Szymanski

Jen has taught biology and related fields to students from Kindergarten to University. She has a Master's Degree in Physiology.

The average human adult male produces around 1500 sperm cells per second. This wouldn't be possible without the help of Sertoli cells. In this lesson, we'll look at the function of Sertoli cells, as well as what they do and what happens when their division gets out of control.

How are Sperm Cells Made?

Before we discuss why Sertoli cells are so important, we need to quickly review the process by which sperm cells are made: spermatogenesis. In mammals, spermatogenesis takes place within the testes in long tubes called seminiferous tubules.

Mammalian testis. Number 2 shows convoluted seminiferous tubules, location of Sertoli cells.
Grays anatomy: testis

Sperm cells start as germ cells that are located around the outside of the tubule. Each of these cells divides by meiosis, producing four cells called spermatids. The spermatids mature into spermatozoa, and are released into the lumen, or the center of the tubule. From here, they are moved into another part of the reproductive system to finish maturation and to gain their ability to swim.

Cross section of seminiferous tubule. Sperm formation begins at the outside and moves toward the middle.
Sertoli cells from Grays anatomy

Sertoli Cell Function

The job of Sertoli cells is to 'nurse' developing sperm through this process. Located in the walls of the seminiferous tubules, they are one of the few cells that stay inside the tubules permanently. Let's take a closer look at some of the specific functions of these cells.

Secretion of Molecules that Direct Spermatogenesis

First, sertoli cells make a number of substances that initiate and regulate sperm production. Probably the most important are molecules called inhibin and activin, proteins that control the actions of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). Activin 'activates' FSH production, while inhibin 'inhibits' it. Made in the pituitary gland, FSH's function in males is to stimulate the first division of sperm cells.

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