Researchers Discover Ways The Ulcer/Cancer Bug Can Trigger Disease

St. Louis, March 24 -- A mouse with a human gene has revealed why some people who harbor the peptic ulcer bacterium get sick while others don't. If the stomach lining provides toeholds for the bacterium, it may draw the immune system's friendly fire.

"If the right combination of circumstances occurs -- first, you're unfortunate enough to be infected with a bacterial strain that can bind to the cells lining your stomach and, second, the bacterium contains molecules on its surface that resemble some of those on your stomach cells -- the destiny of the infection may be skewed toward autoantibody production, loss of acid-producing cells and possibly neoplasia," says lead researcher Jeffrey I. Gordon, M.D., the Alumni Professor and head of the Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Researchers in Gordon's lab describe their findings in the March 31 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. First authors are postdoctoral fellow Janaki L. Guruge, Ph.D., and Per Falk, M.D., Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of molecular biology and pharmacology at the School of Medicine and now associate director of molecular biology at the Swedish pharmaceutical company ASTRA Hssle.

Half of the world's people are colonized with Helicobacter pylori. Most have few symptoms -- some gastric inflammation, perhaps, before an apparently harmonious relationship sets in that can last for decades. But 10 to 20 percent of infected individuals are not so lucky. Some get ulcers, and others develop progressive inflammation of the stomach and lose acid-producing cells. This increases their risk for stomach cancer, which is common in countries where H. pylori infection is rife.

"This is a rather extraordinary example of a bacterium that can be relatively harmless in some people and cause cancer in others," Gordon says. "The challenge is to ident

Contact: Linda Sage
Washington University School of Medicine

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