Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Zhi Q. Yao

Committee Members

Chuanfu Li, Jonathan P. Moorman, Shunbin Ning, Krishna Singh,


T cells play an important role in adaptive immune system against viral infections, while premature aging and dysfunction of T cells induced by unrepaired DNA damages are always non-negligible snags during the long-term of fighting with chronic viral infections, such as Hepatitis B virus (HBV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV) or Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection. In this dissertation, we investigated the role of topological DNA damage in reprogramming telomeric DNA damage responses (DDR), mitochondrial metabolisms, and T cell functions using CD4+ T cells derived from individuals with chronic viral infections or healthy subjects treated with topoisomerase inhibitors. The healthy human T cells were treated with camptothecin (CPT) for mitochondrial topoisomerases I (Top1mt) or ICRF-193 or etoposide (ETP) for topoisomerases IIα (Top2α) as models. We found a significant suppression of Top2α and Top1mt protein levels and enzymatic activity in CD4+ T cells in chronically HCV/HIV-infected patients compared to age and gender-matched healthy subjects, along with an accumulation of the topoisomerase cleavage complex (Topcc) in genomic DNA as well as mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mechanistically, topoisomerase inhibition in healthy CD4+ T cells caused topological DNA damage, telomere attrition, mitochondrial metabolic disorder and T cell apoptosis or dysfunction via inducing Topcc accumulation, PARP1 cleavage and failure in DNA repair, thus recapitulating T cell dysregulation in the setting of chronic viral infections. In addition, T cells from virally infected subjects with lower topoisomerase levels were vulnerable to the inhibitor-induced cell apoptosis, indicating an important role for Top2α and Top1mt in preventing DNA topological disruption and cell death. These results demonstrate that accumulation of Topcc and topoisomerase deficiency lead to unrepaired DNA damage and render virally infected patients’ T cells prone to senescence and apoptosis, thus contributing to mitochondrial metabolic disturbance or dysfunction in CD4+ T cell during chronic HCV or HIV infection. This study reveals a novel mechanism by which topoisomerase deficiency promotes telomeric DNA or mtDNA damage and premature T cell aging, and provides a new therapeutic target for restoring the DNA topologic machinery protecting T cells from unwanted DNA damage and to maintain immune competence.

Document Type

Dissertation - embargo


Copyright by the authors.

Available for download on Monday, January 15, 2024