A Neuroanatomical Comparison of Humans and Spotted Hyena, a Natural Animal Model for Common Urogenital Sinus: Clinical Reflections on Feminizing Genitoplasty

J Urol. 2006 Jan;175(1):276-83. doi: 10.1016/S0022-5347(05)00014-5.


Purpose: Surgical treatment of the common urogenital sinus phallus has been one of the most challenging areas in pediatric urology. To better understand the neuroanatomy of the common urogenital sinus phallus, we evaluated an animal model naturally having this condition, the spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta. We compared the neuroanatomy of male and female humans and spotted hyenas using anatomical, immunohistochemical and 3D reconstruction techniques. We also examined the implications of the pattern of clitoral innervation for the unique challenges faced by female spotted hyenas, the only extant species of mammal that mates and gives birth through the clitoris.

Materials and methods: Three adult male and 3 female spotted hyenas were studied. With the animals under anesthesia gross anatomical examination was performed before and after artificial erection. Histological analysis was performed on one 95-day fetal male and female spotted hyena specimens, and on 18 human male and female fetal external genitalia specimens using antibodies raised against the neuronal marker S-100. Three-dimensional computer reconstruction using serial sections allowed analysis of the neuroanatomy of the penis, clitoris and common urogenital sinus of the fetal spotted hyena and human.

Results: Compared to other mammals, the clitoris and penis of spotted hyenas were remarkably similar in size and configuration in the flaccid and erect states. Male and female hyenas had a single opening on the tip of the glans penis/clitoris. The basic anatomical structures of the corporeal bodies in both sexes of humans and spotted hyenas were similar. As in humans, the dorsal nerve distribution was unique in being devoid of nerves at the 12 o'clock position in the penis and clitoris of the spotted hyena. Dorsal nerves of the penis/clitoris in humans and male spotted hyenas tracked along both sides of the corporeal body to the corpus spongiosum at the 5 and 7 o'clock positions. The dorsal nerves penetrated the corporeal body and distally the glans in the hyena. In female hyenas the dorsal nerves fanned out laterally on the clitoral body. Glans morphology was different in appearance in both sexes, being wide and blunt in the female and tapered in the male.

Conclusions: The neuroanatomy of the male and female external genitalia in the spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta, although grossly similar, has distinct anatomical and functional characteristics. The clitoris of the spotted hyena is a classic example of a natural animal model of a common urogenital sinus. The neuroanatomical characteristics of the spotted hyena may be a useful model to simulate the anatomy of common urogenital sinus anomaly in humans.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Clitoris / anatomy & histology*
  • Clitoris / innervation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyaenidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Male
  • Penis / anatomy & histology*
  • Penis / innervation
  • Urogenital Surgical Procedures / methods