Paper - The duration of life of the spermatozoa in the human uterine tube

From Embryology

Ohli CA. The duration of life of the spermatozoa in the human uterine tube. (1935) Acta Obstetricia et Gynecol. Scand, 15(1): 50-57.

The duration of life of the spermatozoa in the human uterine tube


Carl Axel Ohli N.

The duration of life of spermatozoa in the female genital tract is a very important question in discussions, still going on, of the time of conception in man. In studying this problem one of course must in the main refer to comparative animal experiments and experiments in vitro (ev. operative findings). Old opinions suggested that the spermatozoan duration of life was very long, but nowadays. it is generally supposed to be rather short, not longer than 48 hours.

By artificial insemination of rabbits at varying moments in relation to ovulation, HAMMOND and ASDELL have shown quite clearly, that the sperm are fertiliziable 30 hours after coitus but not longer.

This short duration of life of spermatozoa probably depends upon unfavourable influences such as phagocytosis (POPA and MARZA, HOEHNE and BEHNE) and the higher intraabdominal tem- perature. By a number of various experiments it was demonstrated in mammals with scrotum (where the temperature is lawer than that within the abdomen) that a very slight increase of temperature intensifies the motility of the spermatozoa but proportionally - also produces an increasing consumption of the individual spermatozoan’s inherent energy. This results in considerable shortening of the life of the spermatozoa (KNAUS a. 0.). The latter law of spermatozoan physiology as applied to man is very easy to demonstrate» by experiments in vitro (see the following). It is also known that spermatozoa are injured in the female genital tract by the acidity of the vagina.

But is there any condition in the uterine tube, where the sperm arrive very rapidly after coitus, operating favourably upon the duration of life of spermatozoa? It is known that at the period of ovulation, the ciliated epithelium of the tube is transformed, to a large extent, into mucous cells (COHNEN, Gnossnn a.o.). This production of mucous by the tubal epithelium, which depends upon a lutein effect, maintain the life of the young fertilized ovum (WESTMAN). It has been proposed, that this mucoid substance should be conserving or nutritious to the spermatozoa, which immigrate. into the tube.

In order to study if the tubal epithelium and especially if its". mucusproducing ingredients might have any influence upon the duration of life of the spermatozoa, the following experiments were made in vitro.


Normal tubes, exstirpated at operation from women in active sexual age, were used. As soon as possible (usually 1—2‘ hours after removal), the experiments were started. Small sections were cut from several parts of the tubes for histological examination, and the remainder of. the tube was opened with a BowMAN’s knife and the mucous membrane abraded. This abraded epithelium, which forms small gelatinous clumps, was placed upon an object glass and a little drop of fresh human semen added. After mixing the two components a coverglass was applied and walled in by a vaseline frame in order to prevent drying. At the same time controls, using only sperm, were made. Some of the preparations were incubated at room-temperature, others at 37° C. At equal intervals observations of the movements of the spermatozoa were made and the time noted, when their movements stopped. Contrary to certain other authors, the grading of the vitality of the spermatozoa was found here to be of little value. Such determinations were very subjective. The endpoint of the experiment was taken at that time when practically all spermatozoa were motionless. This was found to be a rather practical and unitary ground of judgement.

The sperm used, originated from only one individual and the tubes were from three women. Four of these tubes furnished epithelial specimens for 33 experiments, which were made at room- temperature. The microscopical examination of the tubal specimens revealed different pictures from a predomination of ciliated epithelium to a predomination of mucous cells. (See the following.) At room~temperature 10 controlling proofs were also done. The table shows, except for small variations, a duration of life of the spermatozoa of approximately 50 hours in both the experiments with tubal epithelium and controls.

From the two other tubes enough epithelium was obtained to make 30 preparations, and in these the histological pictures also varied. These preparations with the controls were incubated at 37° C. Also in these examinations practically the same duration of life of the sperm mixed with tubal epithelium and of the sperm only was observed, namely about 12 hours.


A. Experiments at room-temperature.
No. Length of life in hours Histol. picture
1 49 Slides
2 48
3 49
4 47
5 50 » 2. Ciliated epithelium predominating
6 50
7 49
8 47
9 49 3. Ciliated epithelium predominating
10 49 Slides
11 49
12 50
13 47
14 51 5. Ciliated epithelium predominating
15 54
16 49
17 48
18 54
19 49 6. Mucus cells predominating
1 52
2 53
3 54
4 52
5 54

B. Experiments at room-temperature.
No. Length of life in hours Histol. picture
1 53 Slides 7. Ciliated epithelium predominating
2 51
3 53 8. Mucus cells predominating
4 49
5 54
6 52
7 53 9. The same as 8.
8 53
9 50
10 50 11. Ciliated epithelium predominating
11 50
12 53
13 50
14 53 12. The same as 8 and 9
1 54
2 53
3 54
4 53
5 50

C. Experiments at 37° C.
No. Length of life in hours Histol. picture
1 12 Slides 1. Mucus cells predominating
2 13
3 12
4 10
5 12
6 12
7 12
8 11
9 11
10 12
11 12 2. Ciliated epithelium predominating
12 10
13 10
14 12
15 12
16 12 Slides 3. Ciliated epithelium predominating
17 13
18 12
19 12
20 13
21 11
22 12
23 13 4. Mucus cells predominating
24 10
25 11
26 12
27 12
28 12
29 12
30 11
1 13
2 14
3 13
4 13
5 12
6 15
7 13
8 11
9 11
10 12

The times, here attained, are naturally but to be regarded as relative values, and can only be compared mutually. But,if the results of a research of this type do not give definite proof, they may however indicate that the spermatozoa do not find in the tubal secretion any conserving or nourishing medium; and that this medium is for them an indifferent one. The unfavourable factors (heat, phagocytosis), through which indeed a matural selection among the sperms results, seem to be able to exert their effects without hindrance. (Concerning the phagocytosis, in almost every field of sight, could be seen pictures of one or several spermatozoa with the heads included in leucocytes, which accompanied the abraded epithelial flecks).

The result of this research indicates therefore that for the theory of a long duration of life of the spermatozoa in the female genital tract, another conceivable support is removed.

A short duration of life of the spermatozoa, in connection with the fact, nowadays generally recognized, that an unfertilized ovum very rapidly (in a few hours) degenerates, makes it indispensable, that coitus and ovulation must lie close to each other in time, if a conception shall be attained. In animals with oestral cycles this is well regulated and automatic. In animals with permanent heat (e. g. the rabbit) this necessary condition is performed, also automatically, through the mechanism, which acts so that every coitus provokes an ovulation shortly after (via the hypophysis).

The author follows the theory, that also in primates to some extent such a "violent" or "traumatic" ovulation may occur. Experiments with monkeys in order to illuminate this problem are now being carried out.


  1. In order to determine, whether the epithelium and its secretion of the uterine tube in man may have any influence upon the duration of life of the spermatozoa, some experiments in vitro have been performed. The duration of life of only sperm was compared with this of sperm mixed with epithelium of various type (ciliated. mucusproducing resp.) abraded from fresh normal human tubes.
  2. No difference in duration of life could be noted in the different experiments.
  3. The result therefore indicates, that the tubal epithelium and its secretion constitute a medium, which is indifferent for the vitality and longevity of the spermatozoa. The tubal epithelium then does not counteract the factors in the female genital tract, which act unfavourably against the spermatozoa.
  4. This supports the modern acception of a short duration of life of the sperm after coitus. '


1. In der Absicht zu untersuchen, ob das Epithel und das Sekret der Tuba uterina des Menschen eine Einwirkung auf die Lebensdauer der Spermien ausiibt, nahm ich in-vitro-Versuche vor. Hierbei wurde die Lebensdauer der Spermien fiir sich allein mit derjenigen der Spermien vergleichen, die mit dem aus frischen normalen Menschentuben ausgekratzten Epithel von wechselndem Aussehen (u. zw. mit Flimmerepithel resp. schleimsezernierendem) gemischt Worden Waren.

2. In den verschiedenen Versuchen konnte kein Unterschied in der Lebensdauer nachgewiesen werden.

3. Die Versuche deuten also in die Richtung, dass das Tuben-epithel und sein Sekret ein fiir das Leben der Spermien indifferentes Medium ist, und dass das Tubenepithel den in weiblichen Genitalien wirksamen, fiir Sperm. schéidlichen Faktoren nicht entgegenzuarbeiten scheint.

4. Dies stiitzt die jetzt herrschende Auffassung iiber eine sehr kurze Lebensdauer der Sperm. post coitum.


1. Dans le but de rechercher si l’epithe1ium et sa secretion dans la trompe humaine exerce quelque influence sur la duree de la vie des spermatozoides, j’ai procede £1 quelques experiences in vitro. A ce propos, on compara la duree de vie de spermatozoides isoles avec celle de spermatozoides melanges £1 des raclures d’epithelium divers (epithelium cilie et epithelium mucogene) prelevees sur des trompes humaines normales.

2. Aucune difference dans le duree de vie ne put etre établie par les experiences.

3. Les experiences semblent donc indiquer que Pepithelium tubaire et sa secretion constituent un milieu indifferent pour les sperrnatozoides et que les facteurs qui, dans les voies génitales de la femme sont nuisibles aux spermatozoides ne subissent aucune influence de l’epithelium tubaire.

4. Ces recherches confirment l’opinion generalement admise d’une tres breve survie des spermatozoides post coitum.


Ammnsson, W. S. Kentucky Agricultural Experim. Station. Bulletin 239/ 1922.

COHNEN, KARL, Zeitschrift f. mikr. anat. Forschung 11/1927.

HAMMOND, J. and Aspell, S. A.: The British Journal experimemt. biology. 4. 1926—27.

HAMMOND and MARSHALL, Reproduction in the Rabbit. London 1923.

HOEHNE, O. and BEHNE, K., Zentralblatt f. Gynéikologie 1. 1914.

KNAUSH. H., Archiv f. Gynéikologie 151, 1932.

P1NcUs, (3., Proc. Royal Soc. London, ser. B. 1931.

PopA, GR. T. et MARZA, V., Soc. de biol. Paris C. r. 101, 1929.

REDENZ, E., Arch. f. mikr. Anat. 103/1924.

WESTMAN, AXEL, Acta obst. et gyn. scand. 1932.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2019, August 20) Embryology Paper - The duration of life of the spermatozoa in the human uterine tube. Retrieved from

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