The mule (Equus mulus mulus) is a sterile hybrid domestic animal that results from the breeding of a male donkey (Equus asinus) to a female horse (Equus caballus). Usually, spermatogenesis in mules does not advance beyond spermatocytes. In the present study, we performed a comparative and more accurate morphometric and functional investigation of the testis in donkeys and mules. Due to the smaller testis size, lower seminiferous tubule volume density, and fewer germ cells, the total length of seminiferous tubules in mules was significantly smaller than in donkeys. However, the percentage of seminiferous tubules containing germ cells (spermatogonia and spermatocytes) in mules was approximately 95%. The total number of Sertoli cells per testis observed in donkeys and mules was very similar. However, the total number of Leydig cells in mules was approximately 70% lower than in donkeys. At least in part, this difference was probably related to the lower number of germ cells present in mule seminiferous tubules. Although spermatogenesis in mules did not advance beyond secondary spermatocytes/newly formed round spermatids, germ cell associations in the seminiferous epithelium and pachytene spermatocytes nuclear volume in donkeys and mules were similar. The duration of spermatogenesis was estimated using intratesticular injections of tritiated thymidine. Each spermatogenic cycle in donkeys lasted 10.5 days. A similar value was found in mules (∼10.1 days). Considering that the entire spermatogenic process takes approximately 4.5 cycles to be completed, its total duration in donkeys was estimated to last 47.2 days. The results found for mules suggest that the mechanisms involved in the determination of testis structure and function are probably originated from donkeys. Also, the data found for mules suggest that their seminiferous tubules are able to sustain complete spermatogenesis. In this regard, this species is a potential model for transplants of germ cells originated from donkeys and horses or other large animals.
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