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Nell, Sandra; Estibariz, Iratxe; Krebes, Juliane; Bunk, Boyke; Graham, David Y.; Overmann, Jörg; Song, Yi; Sproeer, Cathrin; Yang, Ines; Wex, Thomas; Korlach, Jonas; Malfertheiner, Peter; Sürbaum, Sebastian (2018): Genome and Methylome Variation in Helicobacter pylori With a cag Pathogenicity Island During Early Stages of Human Infection. In: Gastroenterology, Vol. 154, No. 3: pp. 612-623
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Abstract

BACKGROUND & AIMS: Helicobacter pylori is remarkable for its genetic variation;yet, little is known about its genetic changes during early stages of human infection, as the bacteria adapt to their new environment. We analyzed genome and methylome variations in a fully virulent strain of H pylori during experimental infection. METHODS: We performed a randomized Phase I/II, observer-blind, placebo-controlled study of 12 healthy, H pylori-negative adults in Germany from October 2008 through March 2010. The volunteers were given a prophylactic vaccine candidate (n = 7) or placebo (n = 5) and then challenged with H pylori strain BCM-300. Biopsy samples were collected and H pylori were isolated. Genomes of the challenge strain and 12 reisolates, obtained 12 weeks after (or in 1 case, 62 weeks after) infection were sequenced by single-molecule, real-time technology, which, in parallel, permitted determination of genome-wide methylation patterns for all strains. Functional effects of genetic changes observed in H pylori strains during human infection were assessed by measuring release of interleukin 8 from AGS cells (to detect cag pathogenicity island function), neutral red uptake (to detect vacuolating cytotoxin activity), and adhesion assays. RESULTS: The observed mutation rate was in agreement with rates previously determined from patients with chronic H pylori infections, without evidence of a mutation burst. A loss of cag pathogenicity island function was observed in 3 reisolates. In addition, 3 reisolates from the vaccine group acquired mutations in the vacuolating cytotoxin gene vacA, resulting in loss of vacuolization activity. We observed inter-strain variation in methylomes due to phase variation in genes encoding methyltransferases. CONCLUSIONS: We analyzed adaptation of a fully virulent strain of H pylori to 12 different volunteers to obtain a robust estimate of the frequency of genetic and epigenetic changes in the absence of interstrain recombination. Our findings indicate that the large amount of genetic variation in H pylori poses a challenge to vaccine development.