Ultrastructure of Anterior Uterus of the Oviduct and the Stored Sperm in Female Soft-Shelled Turtle, Trionyx Sinensis

Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2008 Mar;291(3):335-51. doi: 10.1002/ar.20649.


Ultrastructure of sperm storage in female soft-shelled turtle, Trionyx sinensis was examined under light and electron microscopes. Sperm storage tubules are restricted to the anterior of the uterus. These tubules developed either by folding or fusion of the oviductal mucosal folds and are lined by both ciliated and secretory cells. Ciliated cells are characterized by a few microvilli and prominent cilia in the apical membranes. A prominent feature of the secretory cell is the presence of secretory granules in the supranuclear region. The size, shape, and electron density of these granules vary markedly. The secretory product is released mainly by exocytosis into the oviductal lumen, where it appears as flocculent material. The unique structure in the base of the epithelium, the basal border of the cell -- the basal lamina -- and a blood vessel layer, is presumed to be a important barrier, by which the nourishment exchange and the microenvironment maintenance are ensured. The gland cell is presented with numerous, round, membrane-bound secretory granules of moderate to high electron densities. We divide these granules into three types according to their appearance: (1) membrane bounded granules with high-homogeneous electron density, (2) membrane bounded granules with moderate-homogeneous electron density, (3) membrane bounded, electron dense granules with concentric structures. These granules are presented as different stages of the secretions in the gland cell. The junction complexes are markedly distributed between cells, which are important in keeping stability and the microenvironment maintenance of the sperm storage tubules. Sperm stored in the tubules are heterogeneous in cytology. In addition to the mature sperm in the lumen, sperm with large chromatic granules are found, which are presumed to be immature sperm and are being in the process of nuclear condensation. Several spermatozoa in the tubules are exhibited with definitive indications of degeneration of the nuclei. The nuclear volume increases. The electron density of the central cores in mitochondria declines, combined with the deterioration of concentric membrane structure. Those changes are possibly due to the long time storage of the sperm in sperm storage tubules, and the leakage of reactive oxygen species is suggested to be a major cause. We conclude that the ultrastructure character of sperm storage in the oviduct of Trionyx sinensis is unique, in addition to having a basal function in secretion and the cilia swing, the tubules also provide an available microenvironment for the sperm to long time stored. The degenerative sperm in the tubules might be related to paternity-specific reproductive adaptations, and the sperm competition might occur during long time storage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cilia / ultrastructure
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Intercellular Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Oviducts / blood supply
  • Oviducts / cytology
  • Oviducts / ultrastructure*
  • Secretory Vesicles / ultrastructure
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure*
  • Turtles / anatomy & histology*
  • Uterus / blood supply
  • Uterus / cytology
  • Uterus / ultrastructure*