Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Zhi Q. Yao

Committee Members

Alok Agrawal, Chuanfu Li, Jonathan P. Moorman, Krishna Singh


Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection exhibits persistent high viral load, inducing T cells differentiation and dysfunction in chronically infected individuals. Recent longitude studies in both HCV specific- and bulk T cells reveal that chronic immune stimulation is the driving force for the impaired T cell functions, however, the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. Here, we show that peripheral CD4+ T cells from chronically HCV-infected patients exhibit lymphopenia with the reduction of naïve population and expansion of effector memory T cells. CD4+ T cells from HCV patient also display elevated activation markers. including HLA-DR, GLUT1, Granzyme B, and short-lived effector marker CD127- KLRG1+, whereas stem cell-liked transcription factor TCF1 and telomere sheterin subunit TRF2 are significant reduced, comparing to age- and gender-matched healthy controls. Mechanistically, ex vivo T cell differentiation revealed that CD4+ T cells from HCV patients exhibit PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling hyperactivation upon TCR stimulation, favoring pro-inflammatory effector differentiation with TRF2 downregulation, rendering telomere dysfunction induced foci (TIFs) accumulation, resulting in telomeric DNA damage and cellular apoptosis. Importantly, exacerbation of telomere deprotection by knockdown of TRF2 expression in healthy T cells resulted in an increase in telomeric DNA damage and T cell apoptosis; whereas overexpression of TRF2 in HCV-T cells led to an alleviation of telomeric DNA damage and T cell death. Additionally, inhibition of Akt signaling during T cell activation can preserve precursor memory population, while limiting inflammatory effector expansion, DNA damage, and cell death. Taken together, these results suggest that modulation of immune activation by inhibiting Akt signaling and protection of telomeres by enforcing TRF2 expression could open new therapeutic strategies to balance adaptive immune responses in the setting of chronic immune activation and inflammatory in vulnerable populations such as chronically viral infected individuals.

Document Type

Dissertation - embargo


Copyright by the authors.

Available for download on Monday, November 04, 2024