Helicobacter pylori was already present in the stomach of primitive humans as they left Africa and spread through the world. Today, it still chronically infects more than 50% of the human population, causing, in some cases, severe diseases such as peptic ulcers and stomach cancer. To succeed in these long-term associations, H. pylori has developed a unique set of virulence factors, which allow survival in a unique and hostile ecological niche--the human stomach.
Secreted proteins are of general interest from the perspective of bacteria-host interaction. The gastric bacterial pathogen Helicobacter pylori uses a set of secreted and translocated proteins--including outer membrane adhesins, secreted extracellular enzymes and translocated effector proteins--to adapt to its extraordinary habitat, the gastric mucosa. Two major virulence factors of H. pylori are the vacuolating cytotoxin (VacA) and the cag type-IV secretion system and its translocated effector protein, cytotoxin-associated antigen A (CagA). VacA targets not only epithelial cells, but also cells of the immune system and induces immunosuppression. CagA has been shown to interact with a growing set of eucaryotic signaling molecules in phosphorylation-dependent and -independent ways.
Helicobacter pylori represents a highly successful human microbial pathogen that infects the stomach of more than half of the world's population. H. pylori induces gastric inflammation, and the diseases that can follow such infection include chronic gastritis, peptic ulcers and, more rarely, gastric cancer. The reasons why a minority of patients with H. pylori develops gastric cancer could be related to differences in host susceptibility, environmental factors and the genetic diversity of the organism. This review examines the features of H. pylori-induced epithelial cell signalling in gastric diseases. Clinical studies and animal models, and also evidence for H. pylori strain-related differences in gastric epithelial cell proliferation in vivo are discussed. In addition, the mechanisms by which H. pylori triggers hyperproliferative processes and takes direct command of epithelial cell signalling, including activation of tyrosine kinase receptors, cell-cell interactions and cell motility are reviewed.
Five years after publication of the complete genome sequence of Helicobacter pylori, research interest is shifting from the descriptive association of virulence factors with clinical outcome in infected patients to the molecular mechanisms of virulence factor action. This is particularly noticeable for VacA and CagA, for both of which detailed understanding of the interaction with host signalling pathways has accumulated over the last year. The role of H. pylori Lewis antigens for clinical outcome was further substantiated. Various strategies of H. pylori to fool or evade the human immune system are described, which all lead to the dysfunction of specific compartments of the host cellular immune system. Finally, a number of animal models indicate that inflammation is a key factor for gastric carcinogenesis, which is finally supported by a large prospective study identifying corpus atrophy and intestinal metaplasia as precancerous conditions.