Robust DNA Damage Response and Elevated Reactive Oxygen Species in TINF2-Mutated Dyskeratosis Congenita Cells

PLoS One. 2016 Feb 9;11(2):e0148793. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0148793. eCollection 2016.


Dyskeratosis Congenita (DC) is an inherited multisystem premature aging disorder with characteristic skin and mucosal findings as well as a predisposition to cancer and bone marrow failure. DC arises due to gene mutations associated with the telomerase complex or telomere maintenance, resulting in critically shortened telomeres. The pathogenesis of DC, as well as several congenital bone marrow failure (BMF) syndromes, converges on the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway and subsequent elevation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Historically, DC patients have had poor outcomes following bone marrow transplantation (BMT), perhaps as a consequence of an underlying DNA hypersensitivity to cytotoxic agents. Previously, we demonstrated an activated DDR and increased ROS, augmented by chemotherapy and radiation, in somatic cells isolated from DC patients with a mutation in the RNA component of telomerase, TERC. The current study was undertaken to determine whether previous findings related to ROS and DDR in TERC patients' cells could be extended to other DC mutations. Of particular interest was whether an antioxidant approach could counter increased ROS and decrease DC pathologies. To test this, we examined lymphocytes from DC patients from different DC mutations (TERT, TINF2, and TERC) for the presence of an active DDR and increased ROS. All DC mutations led to increased steady-state p53 (2-fold to 10-fold) and ROS (1.5-fold to 2-fold). Upon exposure to ionizing radiation (XRT), DC cells increased in both DDR and ROS to a significant degree. Exposing DC cells to hydrogen peroxide also revealed that DC cells maintain a significant oxidant burden compared to controls (1.5-fold to 3-fold). DC cell culture supplemented with N-acetylcysteine, or alternatively grown in low oxygen, afforded significant proliferative benefits (proliferation: maximum 2-fold increase; NAC: 5-fold p53 decrease; low oxygen: maximum 3.5-fold p53 decrease). Together, our data supports a mechanism whereby telomerase deficiency and subsequent shortened telomeres initiate a DDR and create a pro-oxidant environment, especially in cells carrying the TINF2 mutations. Finally, the ameliorative effects of antioxidants in vitro suggest this could translate to therapeutic benefits in DC patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • DNA Damage*
  • Dyskeratosis Congenita / genetics*
  • Dyskeratosis Congenita / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mutation*
  • Pedigree
  • RNA / genetics
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism*
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins / genetics*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • TINF2 protein, human
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Telomere-Binding Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • telomerase RNA
  • RNA
  • TERT protein, human
  • Telomerase

Grant support

This work was supported by DoD: W81XWH-15-1-0099 ( and Kaul Pediatric Research Institute (UAB School of Medicine) ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.