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T cells in chronic viral infections are featured by premature aging with accelerated telomere erosion, but the mechanisms underlying telomere attrition remain unclear. Here, we employed human CD4 T cells treated with KML001 (a telomere-targeting drug) as a model to investigate the role of telomere integrity in remodeling T cell senescence. We demonstrated that KML001 could inhibit cell proliferation, cytokine production, and promote apoptosis via disrupting telomere integrity and DNA repair machineries. Specifically, KML001-treated T cells increased dysfunctional telomere-induced foci (TIF), DNA damage marker γH2AX, and topoisomerase cleavage complex (TOPcc) accumulation, leading to telomere attrition. Mechanistically, KML001 compromised telomere integrity by inhibiting telomeric repeat binding factor 2 (TRF2), telomerase, topoisomerase I and II alpha (Top1/2a), and ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM) kinase activities. Importantly, these KML001-induced telomeric DNA damage and T cell senescent phenotype and machineries recapitulated our findings in patients with clinical HCV or HIV infection in that their T cells were also senescent with short telomeres and thus more vulnerable to KML001-induced apoptosis. These results shed new insights on the T cell aging network that is critical and essential in protecting chromosomal telomeres from unwanted DNA damage and securing T cell survival during cell crisis upon genomic insult.

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© 2019 Cao, Zhao, Nguyan, Nguyen, Khanal, Dang, Schank, Chand Thakuri, Wu, Morrison, El Gazzar, Zou, Ning, Wang, Moorman and Yao. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.