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A comparative study on testicular microstructure and relative sperm production in gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans



We performed histological analyses for comparing testicular microstructure between the gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan. Testicular samples were obtained by autopsy or biopsy from 10 gorillas, 11 chimpanzees, and 7 orangutans from several zoos and institutes. The seminiferous epithelia were thick in the chimpanzee and orangutan but thin in the gorilla. Leydig cells in the interstitial tissue were abundant in the gorilla. The acrosomic system was extremely well developed in the orangutans. Our study reveals that the cycle of seminiferous epithelium in orangutan testis can be divided into ten stages, whereas that in human, chimpanzee, and gorilla testes can be divided into only six stages. Phylogenetic analyses of the number of divisions may indicate that the seminiferous epithelium of our common ancestor has changed since the orangutan diverged from it. Furthermore, we performed comparative analyses of testicular microstructure to estimate relative sperm production among these three animals, and proposed a new indicator (namely the spermatogenic index, SI) closely related to sperm production. The SI indicated that a chimpanzee usually produces about 223 times more sperm than a gorilla and about 14 times more than an orangutan. Our data demonstrate the significance of the SI for estimating sperm production, thus aiding our understanding of the reproductive strategy as well as testis weight and relative testis size in investigated primates. Am. J. Primatol. 73: 570-577, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.