What Is the Epididymis? - Definition & Function

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  • 0:00 The Male Reproductive System
  • 1:22 What Is the Epididymis?
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson, you will learn what the epididymis is, where it is located, and the important roles that it plays in the process of male fertility and the production of active sperm, known as the processes of spermatogenesis and spermiogenesis

The Male Reproductive System

The male reproductive system is composed of a series of organs, vessels, glands, and ducts that act as both sperm-producing factories as well as the delivery system for sperm. This system includes the testes, which are a set of organs you can think of as a sort of sperm factory; the vas deferens, which is a transfer vessel; the Cowper's gland, which is a secretion gland; the prostate gland, which is also a secretion gland; the seminal vesicle, which is a storage vessel; and, of course, the epididymis, also a storage site, which connects the testicle to a vans deferens.

Sperm, being the carriers of paternal genetic material, are produced throughout a male's lifetime in a set of organs called testes. In one month alone, the testes (or testicles) are capable of producing over 12 million sperm within their network of highly convoluted tubing called seminiferous tubules. However, the testes are only capable of creating immature sperm (through a process known as spermatogenesis) that are neither motile nor fertile (able to fertilize an egg); nor are they capable of even recognizing an egg. These properties are acquired via a structure called the epididymis.

What Is the Epididymis?

For a long time it was thought that the epididymis was merely a storage site for sperm that worked something like a daycare center, housing and watching over spermatids (immature sperm) as they matured by their own devices. However, the epididymis has been found to be much more than that - it's an active participant in the process of sperm maturation.

The epididymis is, on average, anywhere from 4-7 cm long and, like the testes, houses a long, highly coiled network of tubing that spermatids pass thorough. If you were to remove the tubing and stretch it out straight it would be about 6 meters long!

The epididymis has three sections - the head, body, and tail - each playing different roles in sperm maturation. The head, located at the top of the testes, is connected by tubes called the efferent ductus. These tubes, along with the head of the epididymis, are responsible for reabsorbing 98% of the seminiferous tubule fluid that the immature sperm are carried in. This fluid, were it not reabsorbed by the efferent ductus and the head of the epididymis, would increase the fluid pressure within the organ and could result in halting spermatogenesis (oh no!).

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