In cattle, nearly all heifers born co-twin to a male are freemartins, XX/XY chimeras that exhibit a characteristic masculinized phenotype. However, in sheep, while litters containing males and females are common, freemartins are relatively rare. The primary aim of this study was to determine the frequency and features of XX/XY chimerism in female Rideau Arcott sheep. Also, breeding records were used to investigate the effect of litter size and sex ratios, as well as the genetic basis of the condition. Finally, the migration and transcriptional competence of cells of the opposite sex in the XX/XY female and male chimeras was explored. Genomic DNA (gDNA) from peripheral blood cells of ewes was screened by PCR for the male-specific SRY gene. Of 230 lambs screened, 10 were identified as chimeras. Litter size and sex ratio showed no statistically significant effect on the frequency of chimerism. PCR and FISH analysis confirmed the presence of opposite sex cells in female and male chimeras, and in the case of ewes, their migration to tissues other than blood. Transcriptional activity of SRY and AMH was detected in gonads of ewes, whereas XIST expression was detected in white blood cells of chimeric rams. It was concluded that the frequency of sex chromosome chimerism in Rideau Arcott sheep is estimated at 4.35%, with no significant effect of litter size and sex ratio. Moreover, as it was shown that opposite sex cells can migrate to tissues other than blood and be transcriptionally active in chimeric sheep, we speculate on the role they can play in these animals.

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