The Anatomy and Function of Sperm
Much discussion surrounding fertility, or lack thereof, revolves around females. Whether it is age, genetics, or physiological disorders, it is commonly assumed that females exhibit more fertility inhibiting conditions. However fertility issues are most often split into thirds. One third of fertility issues lie in the female, one third in the male and the final third is a mixture of both female and male issues. As they say, it takes two to tango, and many issues in fertility stem from the quality of sperm.
What is Sperm?
To conceive a child both male and female sex cells must meet. Sperm is the male sex cell and is comprised of 23 pairs of chromosomes which mix and replicate with the corresponding 23 pairs of chromosomes present in an egg cell, or the female sex cell. These gametes are specially designed with a “tail” or flagellum and a head, or haploid nucleus. They are as stripped down as can possibly be and only contain a few mitochondria to propel the cell through the uterus and to the egg and a densely packed nuclei full of DNA surrounded by enzymes that work to break down the exterior of the ovum so that the sperm can meet with the egg and become a zygote – the building blocks of life.
Sperm is created by the millions daily in the testicles. The process called spermatogenesis begins when a male goes through puberty and continues for his entire life. Seminiferous tubules are constantly creating sperm and they have their own “life stages” as well. Immature sperm is called spermatogonia ad are constantly being created as they age they’re differentiated into primary spermatocytes then after paired homologous chromosomes are have crossed over cell division continues and these are differentiated into secondary spermatocytes. At this point these cells have 22 paired chromosomes and a duplicated X or Y chromosome. From here the cells move from the seminiferous tubules into the epididymis and are further matured and stored. The process of spermatogenesis takes a total of five weeks to complete.
Once ejaculated the sperm continues its journey to the uterus. The tails propel this genetic material to the oocyte where the enzymes located in the head of the cell can break down the lining of the egg and effectively fertilize the egg.
How Does Sperm Affect Fertility?
Sperm is one of two major factors that determine fertility. Although men are constantly creating sperm, that does not always guarantee that the sperm will be able to meet the egg and create a child. Sperm cells are highly competitive. The genetic material being sent ensures that that specific mix of genes will be part of a new generation. Sperm that cannot move fast enough to get to the egg when it is ready to be fertilized is a major contributing factor to infertility. Similarly many men produce too few sperm, and some men’s sperm quality is very low as well. Few, slow-moving, and potentially damaged genetic material makes it very difficult to conceive a child, especially when the window of ovulation is so small.
Further the motility and quality of sperm is only a small fraction of the problems that can contribute to male infertility. Hormonal and biological factors may also stand in the way of successful fertilization. For these reasons a full semen analysis is the first thing we do to understand the source of contention.
When a couple comes to Viera Fertility Center with fertility issues we run a full panel of tests on both the male and female partners. This is to determine where the root issue lies. In about 33.3 percent of cases the cause of infertility is the male. A semen analysis includes both a blood and genetic test to rule out hormonal and chromosomal issues respectively. Then if both the hormonal and genetic tests come back with no abnormalities, a urologic evaluation may be necessary.
Once the root cause of male infertility is found we can begin to treat the issue. Each case differs, however in many cases Intrauterine Insemination or intracytoplasmic sperm injection can help a couple to conceive.
If you and your wife are having a difficult time conceiving after one year of unprotected intercourse, contact your fertility doctor at Viera Fertility Center. We can help you build the family of your dreams by diagnosing and treating your fertility challenges.