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Telomere erosion and mitochondrial dysfunction are prominent features of aging cells with progressive declines of cellular functions. Whether telomere injury induces mitochondrial dysfunction in human T lymphocytes, the major component of adaptive host immunity against infection and malignancy, remains unclear. We have recently shown that disruption of telomere integrity by KML001, a telomere-targeting drug, induces T cell senescence and apoptosis via the telomeric DNA damage response (DDR). In this study, we used KML001 to further investigate the role and mechanism of telomere injury in mitochondrial dysregulation in aging T cells. We demonstrate that targeting telomeres by KML001 induces mitochondrial dysfunction, as evidenced by increased mitochondrial swelling and decreased mitochondrial membrane potential, oxidative phosphorylation, mitochondrial DNA content, mitochondrial respiration, oxygen consumption, glycolysis, and ATP energy production. Mechanistically, we found that the KML001-induced telomeric DDR activated p53 signaling, which in turn repressed the expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma coactivator 1 alpha (PGC-1α) and nuclear respiratory factor 1 (NRF-1), leading to T cell mitochondrial dysfunction. These results, forging a direct link between telomeric and mitochondrial biology, shed new light on the human T cell aging network, and demonstrate that the p53-PGC-1α-NRF-1 axis contributes to mitochondrial dysfunction in the setting of telomeric DDR. This study suggests that targeting this axis may offer an alternative, novel approach to prevent telomere damage-mediated mitochondrial and T cell dysfunctions to combat a wide range of immune aging-associated human diseases.

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Creative Commons License

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