Document Type


Publication Date



Background: T cells play a key role in controlling viral infections; however, the underlying mechanisms regulating their functions during human viral infections remain incompletely understood. Here, we used CD4 T cells derived from individuals with chronic viral infections or healthy T cells treated with camptothecin (CPT) - a topoisomerase I (Top 1) inhibitor - as a model to investigate the role of DNA topology in reprogramming telomeric DNA damage responses (DDR) and remodeling T cell functions.

Results: We demonstrated that Top 1 protein expression and enzyme activity were significantly inhibited, while the Top 1 cleavage complex (TOP1cc) was trapped in genomic DNA, in T cells derived from individuals with chronic viral (HCV, HBV, or HIV) infections. Top 1 inhibition by CPT treatment of healthy CD4 T cells caused topological DNA damage, telomere attrition, and T cell apoptosis or dysfunction via inducing Top1cc accumulation, PARP1 cleavage, and failure in DNA repair, thus recapitulating T cell dysregulation in the setting of chronic viral infections. Moreover, T cells from virally infected subjects with inhibited Top 1 activity were more vulnerable to CPT-induced topological DNA damage and cell apoptosis, indicating an important role for Top 1 in securing DNA integrity and cell survival.

Conclusion: These findings provide novel insights into the molecular mechanisms for immunomodulation by chronic viral infections via disrupting DNA topology to induce telomeric DNA damage, T cell senescence, apoptosis and dysfunction. As such, restoring the impaired DNA topologic machinery may offer a new strategy for maintaining T cell function against human viral diseases.

Copyright Statement

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Creative Commons License

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