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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Lisa Baumbach - Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

Amjad Farooq - Committee Member

Third Committee Member

Roberto Vazquez-Padron - Committee Member

Fourth Committee Member

Terace Fletcher - Mentor

Fifth Committee Member

Feng Zheng - Outside Committee Member


TTAGGG repeat factor 2 (TRF2) is a protein that plays an important role in capping telomere ends from DNA damage responses. Telomere DNA consists of double strand repeats of the TTAGGG sequence ending with a 3'single-stranded overhang of the guanine strand (the G-strand overhang). TRF2 protects telomeres from being recognized as double-stranded breaks. It is thought that this protection is performed through the formation of T-loop structures and recruitment of proteins into a complex called shelterin. The exact mechanism of T-loop formation is unknown. I show with in vitro biochemical studies that TRF2 specifically interacts with telomeric ss/ds DNA junctions and binding is sensitive to the sequence of the G-strand overhang and double-stranded DNA sequence at the junction. Binding assays with TRF2 truncation mutants suggest that TRF2 interacts with both the double-stranded DNA through the C-terminal DNA binding domain and the G-strand overhang through the N-terminus. Mobility shifts and atomic force microscopy with truncation mutants bound to telomeric DNA also show that a previously uncharacterized "linker" region within TRF2 is involved in DNA-specific TRF2 oligomerization. From these observations, I suggest that TRF2 forms protective loops by oligomerizing through both a previously characterized dimerization domain and the linker region. I propose that loop formation involving the telomere ends is accomplished through direct interactions between TRF2 and the G-strand overhang. In addition to DNA protection, a new role has emerged for TRF2 in sensing DNA damage. TRF2 can be phosphorylated within its dimerization domain by ATM and recruited to DNA damage foci in cells. The inhibition of TRF2 function alone has been shown to induce senescence and apoptosis in vascular endothelial cells. Since the common stimuli for a senescence phenotype is activation of a DNA damage response, I studied the relationship between DNA damage and TRF2 phosphorylation. Ex-vivo characterization of DNA damage-induced changes in vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMC) was undertaken. VSMC treated with H202 induced an increase in reactive oxygen species (ROS), and 8-oxo-guanine accumulation resulting in cell cycle arrest, chromatin condensation and a senescent phenotype. Interestingly phosphorylated TRF2 and ATM were also up regulated. Balloon injury was used to test the connection between phosphorylated TRF2 and senescence during vascular remodeling in rat arteries. Vascular remodeling as judged by neointima formation was associated with accumulation of 8-oxo-guanine, DNA damage signaling, including phosphorylated TRF2, an increase in cell cycle inhibitors and senescence. These events were exaggerated in aged animals and are consistent with a role in telomere dysfunction, and age related diseases.


Telomere; Senescence; DNA Damage; Neointima Formation; Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells