Human Anatomy:The Prostate Gland

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The prostate is the largest accessory gland in the male reproductive system.

It secretes proteolytic enzymes into the semen, which act to break down clotting factors in the ejaculate. This allows the semen to remain in a fluid state, moving throughout the female reproductive tract for potential fertilisation.

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The prostate is positioned inferiorly to the neck of the bladderand superiorly to the external urethral sphincter, with the levator ani muscle lying inferolaterally to the gland.

Most importantly, posteriorly to the prostate lies the ampulla of the rectum – this anatomical arrangement is utilised during Digital Rectal Examinations (DRE), allowing physicians to examine the gland.

The proteolytic enzymes leave the prostate via the prostatic ducts. These open into the prostatic portion of the urethra, through 10-12 openings at each side of the seminal colliculus (or verumontanum); secreting the enzymes into the semen immediately before ejaculation.

Anatomical Structure

The prostate is commonly described as being the size of a walnut. Roughly two-thirds of the prostate is glandular in structure and the remaining third is fibromuscular. The gland itself is surrounded by a thin fibrous capsule of the prostate. This is not a real capsule; it rather resembles the thin connective tissue known as adventitia in the large blood vessels.

Traditionally, the prostate is divided into anatomical lobes (inferoposterior, inferolateral, superomedial, and anteromedial) by the urethra and the ejaculatory ducts as they pass through the organ. However, more important clinically is the histological division of the prostate into three zones (according to McNeal):

  • Central zone –surrounds the ejaculatory ducts, comprising approximately 25% of normal prostate volume.
    • The ducts of the glands from the central zone are obliquely emptying in the prostatic urethra, thus being rather immune to urine reflux.
  • Transitional zone – located centrally and surrounds the urethra, comprising approximately 5-10% of normal prostate volume.
    • The glands of the transitional zone are those that typically undergo benign hyperplasia (BPH)
  • Peripheral zone –makes up the main body of the gland (approximately 65%) and is located posteriorly.
    • The ducts of the glands from the peripheral zone are vertically emptying in the prostatic urethra; that may explain the tendency of these glands to permit urine reflux.
    • That also explains the high incidence of acute and chronic inflammation found in these compartments, a fact that may be linked to the high incidence of prostate carcinoma at the peripheral zone.
    • The peripheral zone is mainly the area felt against the rectum on DRE, which is of irreplaceable value.
Urological Illustrations by Fairman Studios for American Urological Association patient education materials

The fibromuscular stroma (or fourth zone for some) is situated anteriorly in the gland. It merges with the tissue of the urogenital diaphragm. This part of the gland is actually the result of interaction of the prostate gland budding around the urethra during prostate embryogenesis and the common horseshoe-like muscle precursor of the smooth and striated muscle that will eventually form the internal and external urethra sphincter.


The arterial supply to the prostate comes from the prostatic arteries, which are mainly derived from the internal iliac arteries. Some branches may also arise from the internal pudendal and middle rectal arteries.

Venous drainage of the prostate is via the prostatic venous plexus, draining into the internal iliac veins. However, the prostatic venous plexus also connects posteriorly by networks of veins, including the Batson venous plexus, to the internal vertebral venous plexus.

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