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Oxidative stress caused by excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) accelerates telomere erosion and mitochondrial injury, leading to impaired cellular functions and cell death. Whether oxidative stress-mediated telomere erosion induces mitochondrial injury, or vice versa, in human T cells—the major effectors of host adaptive immunity against infection and malignancy—is poorly understood due to the pleiotropic effects of ROS. Here we employed a novel chemoptogenetic tool that selectively produces a single oxygen (1O2) only at telomeres or mitochondria in Jurkat T cells. We found that targeted 1O2 production at telomeres triggered not only telomeric DNA damage but also mitochondrial dysfunction, resulting in T cell apoptotic death. Conversely, targeted 1O2 formation at mitochondria induced not only mitochondrial injury but also telomeric DNA damage, leading to cellular crisis and apoptosis. Targeted oxidative stress at either telomeres or mitochondria increased ROS production, whereas blocking ROS formation during oxidative stress reversed the telomeric injury, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cellular apoptosis. Notably, the X-ray repair cross-complementing protein 1 (XRCC1) in the base excision repair (BER) pathway and multiple mitochondrial proteins in other cellular pathways were dysregulated by the targeted oxidative stress. By confining singlet 1O2 formation to a single organelle, this study suggests that oxidative stress induces dual injury in T cells via crosstalk between telomeres and mitochondria. Further identification of these oxidation pathways may offer a novel approach to preserve mitochondrial functions, protect telomere integrity, and maintain T cell survival, which can be exploited to combat various immune aging-associated diseases.

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This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. © 2021 The Authors. Aging Cell published by Anatomical Society and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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