An anatomical description of the male and female urethral sphincter complex

J Urol. 2004 May;171(5):1890-7. doi: 10.1097/01.ju.0000124106.16505.df.


Purpose: We performed a detailed study of the lower urinary tract of the male and female human fetus to elucidate the anatomy of the urethral sphincter complex in both sexes and its relationship to the surrounding organs and tissues.

Materials and methods: A total of 12 male and 14 female normal human pelvic specimens ranging from 17.5 to 38 weeks of gestation were studied by serial sections and immunohistochemical analysis. Three-dimensional reconstructions were created from serial sections to demonstrate the anatomy of the lower urogenital tract and urethral sphincter in both sexes. Specific attention was directed to the sphincteric muscle of the urethra.

Results: The urinary continence mechanism is formed by a combination of detrusor, trigone and urethral sphincter muscles with distinctive histological characteristics in both sexes. In males the external urethral sphincter covers the ventral surface of the prostate as a crescent shape above the verumontanum, horseshoe shape below the verumontanum and crescent shape along the proximal bulbar urethra. The levator ani muscles form an open circle around the external sphincter with a hiatus at the ventral aspect. In females the external urethral sphincter covers the ventral surface of the urethra in a horseshoe shape. Caudally the same horseshoe-shaped external sphincter increases in size to envelop the distal vagina. The levator ani muscles do not support the proximal urethra. The smooth and striated muscle components of the urethral sphincter complex are inseparable in both sexes.

Conclusions: The developmental anatomy of the urethral sphincter complex is analogous in both sexes. The male and female urinary sphincter mechanism is composed of detrusor, trigone and urethral muscles, each of different muscular origins. The levator ani does not surround the ventral aspect of the urethra and may not have an active role in continence in both sexes. This new concept in the anatomy of male and female sphincter morphology may help to refine our reconstructive and ablative surgical techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Urethra / anatomy & histology
  • Urethra / embryology*
  • Urinary Incontinence / embryology