The freemartin condition represents the most frequent form of intersexuality found in cattle, and occasionally in other species. Freemartinism arises when vascular connections occur between placentae of developing heterosexual twin foetuses, XX/XY chimerism develops, and ultimately there is masculinisation of the female tubular reproductive tract to varying degrees. The aim of this work was to report the clinical and cytogenetic studies performed in 28 cattle co-twins, 24 of which were cytogenetically chimeric (2n = 60, XX/XY), raised in the region of Campania (southern Italy). Clinical findings of the 16 freemartin females examined varied greatly, from a more female phenotype (normal body conformation with the presence of a blind-ending vagina and primordial ovarian and uterus structures) to a nearly male phenotype (body conformations with male traits and presence of primordial prepuce, penis and testicles). The 8 freemartin males, in spite of the presence of XX cells, had a normal body conformation and external genitalia and some of them were fertile. In addition to cytogenetic diagnosis we also verified chromosome fragility by testing for chromosome aberration (CA: aneuploidy, gaps, chromatid breaks, chromosome breaks and fragments) and sister chromatid exchange (SCE). Freemartins showed a higher percentage of aneuploid cells and significant statistical differences in mean values of gaps, chromatid breaks and chromosome breaks when compared with control animals. To our knowledge, this is the first time that chromosome instability has been evaluated by analyses of CA and SCE in freemartin cattle.

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