What is the role of genetics in the pathogenesis of Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infection?

Updated: Jul 21, 2021
  • Author: Luigi Santacroce, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
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In 1997, Tomb and coworkers completely sequenced the H pylori genome, and some differences were found in gene encoding factors that are likely to interact with the host, such as surface proteins. [6] Two of the most important genes of H pylori are VACA and CAGA. The VACA gene codes for the Vac-A cytotoxin, a vacuolating toxin. Most H pylori strains (60%), by unexplained causes, do not produce this protein. The CAGA gene codes for the Cag-A protein, which seems to stimulate the production of chemotactic factors for the neutrophils by the gastric epithelium of the host. A certain proportion of H pylori strains (40%), by unexplained causes, does not produce this protein.

After the exposure to CAGA -positive H pylori strains, an increase in catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase activity has been reported. This increase is associated with fewer DNA adducts and reduced susceptibility of the gastric cells to the irreversible injuries from reactive oxygen species (ROS) compared with exposure to CAGA -negative H pylori strains. Such alterations of the ROS scavenging enzymes may partly account for the increased risk of gastric cancer in individuals with H pylori infection.

A relationship among CAGA/Cag-A, VACA alleles, and the Le subtype of H pylori strains has been reported, as has a link between these and the redox status of the gastric mucosa. For example, H pylori is able to induce apoptosis in epithelial cells and T lymphocytes. The CAGA -positive strains of H pylori seem to be able to increase FASL expression in T lymphocytes (up-regulation of FASL on such cells is redox-sensitive), which facilitates a selective killing of the T lymphocytes. This molecular mechanism may have a key role in the persistence of CAGA -positive strains.

In addition, H pylori up-regulates caspases 3, 6, 8, and 9. Caspases 3 and 9 in epithelial cells are fundamental in inducing apoptosis. The expression of some bacterial genes is acid-regulated, as reported for the FILA gene (responsible for the H pylori motility) that codes for a sigma factor required for transcription of the flagellin gene FLAA. [7] Flagella and urease are very important for the colonization of the gastric mucosa by the bacterium.


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