Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Zhi Q. Yao

Committee Members

Alok Agrawal, Jonathan P. Moorman, Krishna Singh, David L. Williams


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections induce a myriad of disturbances to CD4 T cell functions, including mitochondrial compromise, excessive inflammation, increased telomeric DNA damage and attrition, cellular exhaustion and senescence, and accelerated aging. In this dissertation, the mechanisms underlying metabolic failure, accelerated aging, and cellular dysfunctions were evaluated in CD4 T cells from healthy subjects (HS) treated with a telomere-targeting drug (KML001) or HCV-infected individuals or people living with HIV (PLHIV) compared to HS. We observed that KML001-induced telomere injury resulted in mitochondrial swelling and decreased mitochondrial membrane potential, cellular respiration, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number, and ATP production mediated by p53-mediated repression of the master mitochondrial regulators peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1α) and nuclear respiratory factor 1 (NRF-1). We then investigated the mechanisms responsible for T cell dysfunction and metabolic failure during chronic viral infections (HCV, HIV). We observed that chronic HCV infection leads to elevated production of cellular and mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS), impaired mtDNA, and altered levels of proteins responsible for mediating oxidative stress, apoptosis, and mtDNA maintenance, as well as mitochondrial regulators PGC-1α and mitochondrial transcription factor A (mtTFA), contributing to impaired cellular respiration and mtDNA content. Similarly, we demonstrated that latent HIV infection induced disruptions to CD4 T cell homeostasis and increased cellular exhaustion, senescence, and apoptosis and reduced proliferation. We also observed significant repression of mitochondrial respiration, mtDNA content, and mtTFA levels in CD4 T cells from PLHIV, which was reversed via ectopic expression of mtTFA. Finally, we observed elevated cellular and mitochondria ROS production in CD4 T cells from PLHIV, along with significant deregulation of levels of antioxidant defense (superoxide dismutase 1, SOD1) and oxidative stress-induced DNA damage repair (apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease 1, APE1) proteins, which were shown to be essential for cellular respiration independently of mtDNA content. Taken together, this research highlights novel multi-leveled mechanisms by which chronic viral infection induces accelerated T cell aging and mitochondrial compromise via deregulating master mitochondrial regulators and provides a diverse collection of novel therapeutic targets that may be applied to various infectious diseases.

Document Type

Dissertation - embargo


Copyright by the authors.

Available for download on Saturday, February 15, 2025