Background: CTCF is a highly conserved and essential zinc finger protein expressed in virtually all cell types. In conjunction with cohesin, it organizes chromatin into loops, thereby regulating gene expression and epigenetic events. The function of CTCFL or BORIS, the testis-specific paralog of CTCF, is less clear. Results: Using immunohistochemistry on testis sections and fluorescence-based microscopy on intact live seminiferous tubules, we show that CTCFL is only transiently present during spermatogenesis, prior to the onset of meiosis, when the protein co-localizes in nuclei with ubiquitously expressed CTCF. CTCFL distribution overlaps completely with that of Stra8, a retinoic acid-inducible protein essential for the propagation of meiosis. We find that absence of CTCFL in mice causes sub-fertility beca Conclusions: Our data suggest that nucleosome composition specifies the genome-wide binding of CTCFL and CTCF. We propose that the transient expression of CTCFL in spermatogonia and preleptotene spermatocytes serves to occupy a subset of promoters and maintain the expression of male germ cell genes.