BACKGROUND: Chromatoid bodies (CBs) are characteristic spermatid organelles, which were suggested to function in RNA storage and small RNA processing but whose functions remain largely unknown. CB components include Mili, Miwi, and Tudor domain proteins such as Tdrd6, whose contribution to CB structure and function is elusive. RESULTS: We determined gametogenesis stage- and male-specific expression and localization of Tdrd6, identified a C-terminally truncated form as predominant after meiosis I, and demonstrated direct physical interaction of Tdrd6 with the CB components Mili and Miwi. Development from round into elongated spermatids is abrogated in Tdrd6(-/-) mice. Their round spermatids bear "ghost" CBs, whose architecture is greatly disrupted. Mael, Miwi, and Mvh do not localize to the Tdrd6-deficient CBs, but retrotransposons are not significantly activated. However, more than 50 miRNAs are more abundant in Tdrd6(-/-) testes, as are exemplary pre- and pri-miRNAs. CONCLUSION: We conclude that Tdrd6 is essential for spermiogenesis, for CB structure, and for proper mature and precursor miRNA expression.