In order to elucidate the pathogenesis of tailless sperm, 4,6-dinitro-o-cresol (DNOC) was administered to Jcl:SD male rats at daily oral doses of 0, 10 or 15mg/kg for 5 days. Sperm were collected from the caput, corpus, and cauda epididymides on days 1, 7 and 14 after the last dosing (D1, D7 and D14, respectively), counted and examined morphologically by phase-contrast and scanning electron microscopy. The incidence of abnormal sperm was significantly increased in the DNOC 15mg/kg group. On D1, peeled sperm (loss of mitochondrial sheath at the proximal end of the middle piece) was frequently observed in the caput epididymides, whereas sperm in the corpus and cauda epididymides had normal morphology. Distribution of the peeled sperm changed as time passed and the corpus epididymides showed a peak incidence on D7. On D14, the highest incidence of abnormal sperm was observed in the cauda epididymides, where the major abnormality was tailless. Similar effects were also found in the 10mg/kg group but were less potent. Transmission electron microscopy of testicular sperm on D1 revealed the presence of elongated spermatids that lacked the mitochondrial sheath at the proximal end of the middle piece, although the round and elongating spermatids looked normal. These results suggest that DNOC exposure of male rats primarily causes partial loss of the mitochondrial sheath in the testicular elongated spermatids, and that the affected sperm become tailless by D14 after reaching the cauda epididymides.