Glossary of Terms
Acrosome Reaction Assay: Chemicals are released from the acrosome (at the very tip of the sperm) to help sperm penetrate & enter a woman’s egg. This laboratory test measures the percentage of sperm that can successfully release these chemicals.
Andrologist: A specialist who is an expert in men’s sexual and reproductive capacity.
Anejaculation: When the body cannot squeeze out any semen from the prostate & seminal vesicales into the urethra for ejaculation.
Antioxidants: Vitamins A, C & E can be taken to reduce the levels of reactive oxygen species in the semen and may improve sperm quality.
Anti-Sperm Antibodies: A man’s immune system may produce proteins that make sperm stick to each other. This prevents any single sperm from freely swimming & fertilizing an egg.
Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART): The use of modern medical technology to help conception occur outside of the natural process of sexual intercourse.
Asthenozoospermic: When sperm are not moving well (i.e. Low sperm motility).
Autonomic Dysreflexia: Men with high spinal cord injuries can have episodes of severe headaches, high blood pressure, sweating & flushing. This is a potentially life-threatening medical crisis that is brought on by intense stimuli such as an overly distended full bladder, a passing kidney stone, vibratory stimulation for ejaculation or electroejaculation.
Autosomal Dominant: When a genetic disease requires only one parent to contribute a mutated gene (not on the X or Y sex chromosomes) for a child to have the disease.
Autosomal Recessive: When a genetic disease requires both parents to contribute a mutated gene (not on the X or Y sex chromosomes) for a child to have the disease.
Azoospermic: When no sperm can be found in the semen.
Balanced Translocation: When part of one chromosome is moved onto another chromosome where it does not normally belong. While a parent with a balanced translocation may be physically normal, a child may receive either too much or too little genetic information.
Biopsy of Testicles: When a small sample of tissue is taken from a testicle through a small incision to help assess how well your testicular factory are making sperm.
Capacitation: When sperm complete one of the last steps of maturation to reach their full reproductive “capacity”. This occurs as they swim through a woman’s cervical mucus into a woman’s reproductive tract.
Carrier: A parent may “carry” a gene mutation for a specific disease without having any of the physical manifestations of the disease. This parent can pass this gene mutation on to his/her children.
Catheter: A small soft tube used for procedures such as injecting sperm into a woman’s uterus (Intrauterine Insemination IUI) or retrieving sperm from a man’s bladder who ejaculates sperm backwards.
Centrifuge: A laboratory machine that spins around so fast that it can separate mature healthy sperm from immature sperm. It is used to prepare sperm for procedures such as intrauterine inseminations. It can also help us find sperm when a man does not make a lot of sperm.
Cervical Mucus: During ovulation, the cervical mucus (that substance that coats the cervix) becomes clear and thin allowing sperm to swim more easily through it into the woman’s reproductive tract.
Chromosomes: Pillars of genetic information located within the nucleus of every cell that are the “blueprints” that define how a human being is constructed. Humans have 46 chromosomes that include 22 pairs of autosomes and an additional two sex chromosomes (XX in a woman and XY in a man).
Coagulation: When semen partially solidifies within minutes of ejaculation. This is a normal and natural process.
Congenital Bilateral Absence of the Vas Deferens: When a man is born without the vas deferens (the “piping” that carries sperm from the scrotum up towards the penis).
Cryopreservation: The process by which sperm, eggs or embryos are frozen to preserve them over a period of time.
Cryptorchidism: When one or both testicles do not descend all the way down to the scrotum before or shortly after birth. Men with these “undescended testicles” are at an increased risk of infertility.
Crypts of the cervix: Tiny pockets on the surface of the cervix where sperm can rest before making the long journey up the woman’s reproductive tract towards an egg. Sperm can survive for up to 48 hours within a woman.
Cystic Fibrosis: An autosomal recessive genetic disorder where both parents contribute a copy of a mutated gene to their offspring. CF patients may have problems with eating and breathing that can start as early as childhood.
Density Gradient: Layers of fluid that are of different “densities”. It is used in a laboratory to help separate mature sperm from immature sperm in preparation for Assisted Reproductive Technologies such as inseminations or ICSI.
DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid): The “language” that is used to communicate a person’s genetic information.
Down Syndrome: A genetic disorder where a baby is born with too many copies of chromosome 21. It is more commonly seen with older mothers and is associated with developmental and physical disabilities.
Ejaculation: The part of a male orgasm when semen is propelled or “shot” out of the penis.
Electroejaculation: When an electrical stimulator is placed gently into the anus and turned on to trigger ejaculation.
Embryo: When a sperm and an egg join together and develop for the first two months of a pregnancy. Thereafter, it is termed a fetus.
Emission: The part of a male orgasm where the semen is mixed and then deposited into the penis right before ejaculation.
Epididymis: Located behind the testicle, this small organ is the “refinery” where last minute tune-ups are made for the sperm before they journey out to the penis. Within a space of 2-3 inches, it houses 15 feet of delicate pipes that are less than 1 millimeter wide.
Epididymitis: When the epididymis becomes swollen and painful from infection or some process of inflammation.
Flagellum: Another name for the tail of the sperm that used to make them swim.
FSH (Follicle-Stimulating Hormone): If the testicle is not making enough sperm, the brain will tell it to make more by releasing more FSH into the blood.
Forward Progression: A measure of how well a sperm can move in a forward direction.
Genetic Counselor: A medical specialist that is certified by the American Board of Genetics Counselors and helps patients learn about genetic diseases and their potential impact on building a healthy family.
Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH): A hormone released by your brain (specifically, the hypothalamus) that tells the pituitary (another part of the brain) how much it should tell the testicular factory to make of testosterone and sperm.
Hematospermia: When blood is in the ejaculate.
Hypogonadotropic Hypogonadism (HH): When the brain fails to produce the proper hormones needed to stimulate the testicle to produce sperm & testosterone.
Hypospermatogenesis: When the sampled tissue from a testicular biopsy shows that sperm “assembly lines” are present and function properly; however, the number of assembly lines is reduced so that there is a decreased amount of sperm production.
Hypothalamus: The part of your brain that produces the hormone that controls how much sperm is made and sexual function.
Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): The most advanced type of In Vitro Fertilization where the embryologist injects a single sperm into a single egg.
Intraoperative Microscopy: An important part of vasectomy reversals, a microscopic examination of the fluid from the pipes (vas deferens) coming from the testicles will determine whether you will need the more complex vasoepididymostomy or the more simple vasovasostomy.
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): When sperm are specially prepared for injection via a small catheter into a woman’s uterus.
Intron 8 Splice 5T Variant: A variation on the cystic fibrosis transmembrane receptor (CFTR) genethat is associated with approximately 50% of cases where men are missing the vas deferens on both sides of their scrotum (congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens).
In Vitro Fertilization: A type of assisted reproductive technology where a woman’s ovaries are stimulated with hormones to induce the maturation of many eggs. These eggs are then harvested and fertilized with sperm that are retrieved from the man. This may result in embryos that are then transferred to the woman’s uterus.
Kallman’s Syndrome: A rare disorder where the hypothalamus does not develop properly resulting in an insufficient amount of Gonadotropin-releasing Hormone (GnRH) that causes male infertility.
Karyotype: Blood cells can be harvested from a man to check the integrity of his chromosomes (structures that carry a person’s genetic information). It can help provide information about genetic risks to offspring and fertility potential.
Klinefelter’s Syndrome: A genetic disorder where a man has two X chromosomes and a single Y chromosome (XXY) that can be associated with infertility.
Leydig Cells: The cells in your testicles that are in charge of producing testosterone.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH): A hormone made in the brain (specifically, the pituitary) that tells the testicles how much testosterone to produce.
Maturation Arrest: When the sampled tissue from a testicular biopsy show that the sperm “assembly lines” are present but that they are not working properly to produce sperm of the correct quality or quantity.
Microdeletion: Small areas of genetic information are sometimes missing from the Y chromosome. These microdeletions can help with the prognosis of finding sperm when the decision is made to search for sperm in the testicles of men without any sperm in their ejaculate (azoospermia).
Microsurgery: Specific surgical techniques that use a microscope to augment a surgeon’s visual capabilities. An operating microscope can often help surgeon’s be more precise and accurate with their surgical procedures such as varicocele ligations and vasectomy reversals (vasovasostomy, vasoepididymostomy).
Microsurgical Epididymal Sperm Aspiration (MESA): A microsurgical procedure where the epididymis is exposed through a small scrotal incision. A small window is made in the wall of an epididymal tubule allowing the sperm-filled fluid to be collected for in vitro fertilization.
Morphology: The way sperm are shaped. Reported as the percentage of sperm that appear to be normal in appearance. Subject to interpretation bias.
Motility: Whether sperm are moving, and if so, how well. Reported as the percentage of sperm seen at the time of semen analysis that are moving.
Normozoospermic (Normospermic): When your semen analysis has a normal number of sperm.
Oligoasthenoteratozoospermic (OAT): When your semen analysis has low numbers of sperm that don’t move especially well and are not the most normal in appearance.
Oligozoospermic (Oligospermic): Having a low number of sperm in your semen analysis.
Oocytes: Another word for a woman’s eggs that are in the ovaries.
Percutaneous Embolization: A technique used by interventional radiologist where the veins responsible for varicoceles can be accessed and then “plugged” to obliterate them.
Pituitary: The part of your brain in charge of sending hormones to the testicle to tell it how much sperm and testosterone to produce.
Post-Coital Test (PCT): When a couple is asked to come to the laboratory within a couple hours after having sex. A sample of the mucus that coats the cervix is examined to see how well a man’s sperm penetrated the mucus barrier.
Prolactin: A hormone made in the brain (specifically, the pituitary) that can sometimes shut down sperm production if the prolactin levels are too high.
Prostate: The pipes that carry sperm from your testicles (vas deferens) must travel through your prostate before it can join with your penis. The prostate produces some of the fluid in your ejaculate that support the sperm on their journey out of your penis out to the woman’s reproductive tract.
Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS): Chemical by-products that are often released by inflammatory cells such as white blood cells. High levels of ROS may be an indicator of infection or inflammation that can affect the number and function of sperm.
Retrograde Ejaculation: When during ejaculation, the semen is propelled backwards into your bladder, instead of forward out of the tip of your penis.
Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection: An operation that is often performed during the treatment of testicular cancer. If the nerves that are encountered during this operation are not spared, then these men may have problems with ejaculation causing male infertility.
Seminal Plasma: The fluid that is a major part of your ejaculate.
Seminal Vesicles: The small organs that produce the majority of the fluid in your semen. They reside behind your bladder and are connected to the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles (vas deferens).
Seminiferous Tubules: The sperm “assembly lines” within the testicular factory where sperm are made and packaged for delivery.
Sertoli Cells: The “nurse” cells that support the growth and maturation of sperm within the testicles.
Sertoli Cell Only Syndrome: When the sampled tissue from a testicular biopsy does not have any of the cells responsible for sperm production.
Sperm Concentration: The number of sperm found in a specific volume of semen (often reported as Million per Milliliter).
Sperm Count: The sperm concentration multiplied by the total seminal volume results in the total number of sperm present in all of your ejaculate.
Sperm Preparation: When sperm are collected in a way from the ejaculate so that the highest number of motile sperm are concentrated. This is often done for assisted reproductive technologies such as intrauterine inseminations.
Teratozoospermic: When a semen analysis contains sperm that are abnormal in appearance.
Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE): A procedure where the testicle is explored through a small incision to identify and harvest sperm that can be used for assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization.
Testosterone: The hormone produced by your testicles that influences your degree of “maleness” and affects sperm production, the timing of puberty and sexual function.
Tunica Albuginea: A thick robust outer wall of the testicle that is opened to allow access to the seminiferous tubules where sperm production is located.
Urethra: The tube that carries urine (when you empty your bladder) and sperm (when you ejaculate) out to the tip of your penis.
Varicocele: A dilated cluster of veins around your testicle that become engorged with blood in a standing position. Filled with lots of warm blood, the varicocele will increase the temperature of the scrotum at which the testicular factory must produce sperm. For some men, the testicles become a “sweat shop” where the workers no longer want to work or work less effectively to produce sperm of the proper quality or quantity.
Vas Deferens: The pipes that carry sperm from your scrotum out to your penis. When men have vasectomies, these pipes have been disconnected and the cut ends have been capped off. A vasectomy reversal is performed to reconnect the pipes after a vasectomy.
Vasoepididymostomy: The more complex type of vasectomy reversal that requires the use of an operating microscope and specialized fellowship-training. It is used when there is a blockage in the epididymis in addition to the vasectomy site. It requires that the plumbing be re-routed around both areas of obstruction in a “bypass” procedure.
Vasogram: A special x-ray of the reproductive plumbing to see whether the pipes are open. It is often performed after reconstructive surgeries.
Vasovasostomy: The more simple type of vasectomy reversal where the plumbing is simply reconnected where the pipes were disconnected for the vasectomy.