Reproduction in the male honey possum (Tarsipes rostratus: Marsupialia): The epididymis

J. M. Cummins, P. D. Temple‐Smith, M. B. Renfree

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The epididymis of the adult honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus, is enclosed by a heavily pigmented tunica vaginalis and lies with the testis in a prominent prepenile scrotum. It is connected to the testis by a single ductus efferentis and is lined by approximately equal numbers of cuboidal ciliated and principal cells. It is unusual for marsupials in having no well‐defined compartments or fibrous septae and in having extensive convolutions of the duct only at the caudal flexure. Three principal functional zones (initial, middle, and terminal segments) were identified in the epididymis, based on epithelial type and ultrastructural evidence of sperm maturation. Luminal diameter increases progressively throughout the tract, and epithelial height variations (from about 2 to 20 μm) are greatest in the terminal segment. The epithelium itself is remarkably low (maximum of 21.6 μm) compared with that seen in the epididymis of other mammals. The thickness of the peritubular smooth muscle coat increases close to the junction of the epididymis and ductus deferns. Sperm concentrations were estimated from counts of sperm nuclei and thus can be no more than approximations. The figures are consistent, however, with a rapid increase in concentration in the initial segment, indicating extensive fluid resorption. Sperm concentrations appear to peak in the distal zone of the terminal segment, although sampling problems and wide variations in count make such a conclusion only tentative. Principal and basal cells are the predominant cell types in the epididymal epithelium. Basal cells are most abundant in the initial and distal middle segment. Principal cells show structural evidence of active exchange with the luminal contents and have abundant apical stereocilia, the structure of which depends on the epididymal zone. Other cell types occur less commonly in the epithelium. Lipid‐rich and phagocytic principal cells are restricted to the middle and distal zones of the middle segment, respectively. Clear cells, restricted to the terminal segment, and halo cells were found in very low numbers. As in some other marsupials, principal cells (possibly specialized for this function) selectively remove cytoplasmic droplets and probably other cellular debris from the luminal contents. In Tarsipes, however, this process is not very efficient, and many discarded droplets pass through to the terminal segment where they form large masses of debris associated with aggregates of degenerating spermatozoa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-401
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Anatomy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1986
Externally publishedYes

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