Purpose: The maelstrom spermatogenic transposon silencer (MAEL) function in postmeiotic germ cells remains unclear, and its protein localization in human testis and spermatozoa awaits determination. This study aims to clarify the MAEL expression in human spermatogenesis and to explore its role in sperm function. Materials and methods: Twenty-seven asthenozoospermic men, 40 normozoospermic controls, and three obstructive azoospermic men were enrolled. The transcripts of MAEL in the seminiferous epithelium and MAEL downstream targets were identified by bioinformatics analysis. MAEL protein expression in human testis and ejaculated sperms were examined by immunohistochemical and immunogold staining, respectively. The roles of MAEL in mitochondria function were investigated by siRNA knockdown in human H358 cells. The association between MAEL protein levels and clinical sperm features was evaluated. Results: Abundant MAEL was expressed in spermatid and spermatozoa of the human testis. Remarkably, MAEL was located in the mitochondria of ejaculated sperm, and bioinformatics analysis identified GPX4 and UBL4B as MAEL's downstream targets. Knockdown of MAEL sabotaged mitochondria function and reduced adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production in H358 cells. MAEL, GPX4, and UBL4B expression levels were significantly decreased in asthenozoospermic sperms than in controls. The MAEL protein levels were positively correlated with GPX4 and UBL4B in human sperm. Total motile sperm count (TMSC) was positively correlated with protein levels of MAEL, GPX4, and UBL4B in ejaculated sperms. Conclusions: We highlight prominent MAEL expression in the intratesticular spermatid and the mitochondria of ejaculated spermatozoa. MAEL directly binds to GPX4 and UBL4B, and loss of MAEL induces mitochondrial dysfunction. MAEL-mitochondrial function-motility relationship might advance our understanding of the causes of asthenozoospermia.
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