GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Millennium PhD



First Thesis Advisor

JeanMarie Houghton MD, PhD


Helicobacter pylori, Helicobacter Infections, Stomach Neoplasms, Immunity, Mucosal, Adaptive Immunity, Inflammation


Helicobacter pylori causes chronic gastritis, peptic ulceration and gastric cancer. This bacterium is one of the most prevalent in the world, but affects mostly the populations with a lower socioeconomical status. While it causes gastric and duodenal ulcers in only 20% of infected patients, less then 1% will develop gastric adenocarcinoma. In fact, H. pylori is the most important risk factor in developing gastric cancer. Epidemiological studies have shown that 80% of gastric cancer patients are H. pylori positive. The outcome of the infection with this bacterium depends on bacterial factors, diet, genetic background of the host, and coinfection with other microorganisms. The most important cofactor in H. pylori induced disease is the host immune response, even though the exact mechanism of how the bacterium is causing disease is unknown.

The structural complexity of Helicobacter bacteria makes us believe that different bacterial factors interact with different components of the innate immunity. However, as a whole bacterium it may need mainly the TLR2 receptor to trigger an immune response. The type of adaptive immunity developed in response to Helicobacter is crucial in determining the consequences of infection. It is now known for decades that a susceptible host will follow the infection with a strong Th1 immune response. IFNγ, IL-12, IL-1β and TNF-α are the key components of a strong adaptive Th1 response. This is further supported by our work, where deficient T-bet (a master regulator for Th1 response) mice were protected against gastric cancer, despite maintaining an infection at similar levels to wild type mice. On the other hand, a host that is resistant to Helicobacter develops an infection that is followed by a Th2 response sparing the mucosa from severe inflammation. Human studies looking at single nucleotide polymorphism of cytokines, like IL-1β, IL-10 and TNF-α have clearly demonstrated how genotypes that result in high levels of IL-1β and TNF-α, but low IL-10 expression may confer a 50-fold higher risk in developing gastric cancer.

The outcome of Helicobacter infection clearly relies on the immune response and genetic background, however the coinfection of the host with other pathogens should not be ignored as this may result in modulation of the adaptive immunity. In studying this, we took advantage of the Balb/C mice that are known to be protected against Helicobacter induced inflammation by mounting a strong Th2 polarization. We were able to switch their adaptive immunity to Th1 by coinfected them with a T. gondii infection (a well known Th1 infection in mice). The dual infected mice developed severe gastritis, parietal cell loss and metaplastic changes. These experiments have clearly shown how unrelated pathogens may interact and result in different clinical outcomes of the infected host.

A strong immune response that results in severe inflammation will also cause a cascade of apoptotic changes in the mucosa. A strict balance between proliferation and apoptosis is needed, as its disruption may result in uncontrolled proliferation, transformation and metaplasia. The Fas Ag pathway is the leading cause of apoptosis in the Helicobacter-induced inflammation. One mechanism for escaping Fas mediating apoptosis is upregulation of MHCII receptor. Fas Ag and MHCII receptor interaction inhibits Fas mediated apoptosis by an impairment of the Fas Ag receptor aggregation when stimulated by Fas ligand. Because H. pylori infection is associated with an upregulation of the MHCII levels on gastric epithelial cells, this indeed may be one mechanism by which cells escape apoptosis.

The link between chronic inflammation and cancer is well known since the past century. Helicobacter infection is a prime example how a chronic inflammatory state is causing uncontrolled cell proliferation that results in cancer. The cell biology of “cancer” is regarded not as an accumulation of cells that divide without any control, but rather as an organ formed of cancer stem cells, tumor stromal support cells, myofibroblasts and endothelial cells, which function as a group. The properties of the cancer stem cells are to self-renew and differentiate into tumor cells thus maintaining the tumor grow, emphasizing that a striking similarity exists between cancer stem cells and tissue stem cells.

We looked into what role would BMDCs play in chronic inflammation that causes cancer. Using the mouse model of Helicobacter induced adenocarcinoma we discovered that gastric cancer originates from a mesenchymal stem cell coming from bone marrow. We believe that chronic inflammation, in our case of the stomach, sets up the perfect stage for bone marrow stem cells to migrate to the stomach where they are exposed to inflammatory stimuli and transform into cancer stem cells. One of the mechanism by which the MSC migrate to the inflammation site is the CXCR4/SDF-1 axis.

Our work sheds new light on Helicobacter induced gastric cancer pathogenesis. I hope that our findings will promote the development of new therapies in the fight against this deadly disease.



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