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New insights into disease mechanism

New insights into disease mechanism
Photo: New insights into disease mechanism
Background
One mechanism utilized by bacterial pathogens for host adaptation and immune evasion is the generation of phenotypic diversity by the phasevarion that results from the differential expression of a suite of genes regulated by the activity of a phase-variable methyltransferase within a restriction modification (RM) system. Phasevarions are active in Helicobacter pylori, however there have been no studies investigating the significance of phase-variable RM systems on host colonization.

Helicobacter pylori is a Gram-negative spiral-shaped bacterium that inhabits the human gastric mucosa of more than half of the world’s population [7] and is the causative agent of chronic gastritis and peptic ulcer. H. pylori has also been recognized as a risk factor for gastric cancer [8]. The H. pylori genome is replete with RM systems, with each strain containing its own unique complement [9], and its DNA is widely methylated by these systems [10].

Methods
Two mutant types incapable of phase variation were constructed; a clean deletion mutant (‘DEL’) and a mutant (‘ON’) where the homopolymeric repeat was replaced with a non-repeat synonymous sequence, resulting in expression of the full-length protein. The resulting mutants were assessed for their colonisation ability in the mouse model.

Results
Five phase-variable genes encoding either methyltransferases or members of RM systems were found in H. pylori OND79. Our mutants fell into three categories; 1, those with little effect on colonization, 2, those where expression of the full-length protein was detrimental, 3, those where both mutations were detrimental.

Conclusions
Our results demonstrated that phase-variable methyltransferases are critical to H. Pylori colonization, suggesting that genome methylation and generation of epigenetic diversity is important for colonization and pathogenesis. The third category of mutants suggests that differential genome methylation status of H. pylori cell populations, achieved by the phasevarion, is essential for host adaptation. Studies of phase-variable RM mutants falling in the two other categories, not strictly required for colonization, represent a future perspective to investigate the role of phasevarion in persistence of H. pylori.

This article is adapted from Jonathan C Gauntlett, Hans-Olof Nilsson, Alma Fulurija, Barry J Marshall and Mohammed Benghezal, Phase-variable restriction/modification systems are required for Helicobacter pylori colonization. Source article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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