Hello readers!

It’s the new year and #microtwjc is back. Please join Danny (@id_EATER) and Phil (@wragbags) at 20:00 (GMT) on twitter to discuss this paper from the folks at the Pasteur Institute. This group works on the bacterium Helicobacter Pylori which is associated with gastritis and peptic ulcers. As you might guess this means it has special adaptations to thrive in the acidic conditions of the stomach!

The paper we will discuss is titled: Evolution of Helicobacter: Acquisition by Gastric Species of Two Histidine-Rich Proteins Essential for Colonization. It takes an initial observation in the literature though a comparative genomics approach to in vitro experiments and finally into a in vivo system in order to explain a role of two proteins in gastric colonization by Helicobacter.

Please keep the following discussion points/questions in mind when reading the paper and feel free to tweet to @microtwjc or comment below with any points/questions you might have during reading.

  1. What was known about the subject before this paper was published? How do the authors make it easy to contextualize their findings in the field?
  2. What have we learnt after reading the paper?
  3. How does the data support the conclusions and what are some limitations in the experimental design?
  4. What was done well in this paper?
  5. What future work would be of interest to conduct?

You can read the full paper here and I have included the abstract and author summary after the jump. Hope to see you online!


Metal acquisition and intracellular trafficking are crucial for all cells and metal ions have been recognized as virulence determinants in bacterial pathogens. Virulence of the human gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori is dependent on nickel, cofactor of two enzymes essential for in vivo colonization, urease and [NiFe] hydrogenase. We found that two small paralogous nickel-binding proteins with high content in Histidine (Hpn and Hpn-2) play a central role in maintaining non-toxic intracellular nickel content and in controlling its intracellular trafficking. Measurements of metal resistance, intracellular nickel contents, urease activities and interactomic analysis were performed. We observed that Hpn acts as a nickel-sequestration protein, while Hpn-2 is not. In vivo, Hpn and Hpn-2 form homo-multimers, interact with each other, Hpn interacts with the UreA urease subunit while Hpn and Hpn-2 interact with the HypAB hydrogenase maturation proteins. In addition, Hpn-2 is directly or indirectly restricting urease activity while Hpn is required for full urease activation. Based on these data, we present a model where Hpn and Hpn-2 participate in a common pathway of controlled nickel transfer to urease. Using bioinformatics and top-down proteomics to identify the predicted proteins, we established that Hpn-2 is only expressed by H. pylori and its closely related species Helicobacter acinonychis. Hpn was detected in every gastric Helicobacter species tested and is absent from the enterohepatic Helicobacter species. Our phylogenomic analysis revealed that Hpn acquisition was concomitant with the specialization of Helicobacter to colonization of the gastric environment and the duplication at the origin of hpn-2 occurred in the common ancestor of H. pylori and H. acinonychis. Finally, Hpn and Hpn-2 were found to be required for colonization of the mouse model by H. pylori. Our data show that during evolution of the Helicobacter genus, acquisition of Hpn and Hpn-2 by gastric Helicobacter species constituted a decisive evolutionary event to allow Helicobacter to colonize the hostile gastric environment, in which no other bacteria persistently thrives. This acquisition was key for the emergence of one of the most successful bacterial pathogens, H. pylori.

Author Summary

Helicobacter pylori is a bacterium that persistently colonizes the stomach of half of the human population. Infection by H. pylori is associated with gastritis, peptic ulcer disease and adenocarcinoma. To resist gastric acidity and proliferate in the stomach, H. pylori relies on urease, an enzyme that contains a nickel-metallocenter at its active site. Thus, nickel is a virulence determinant for H. pylori. Our aim is to characterize how H. pylori controls the intracellular nickel concentration to avoid toxicity, which protein partners are involved, and how they impact urease activity and virulence. We characterized two H. pylori proteins, Hpn and Hpn-2 that are rich in Histidine residues. We demonstrated that Hpn is involved in nickel sequestration, that the two proteins interact with each other and that their combined activities participate in a nickel transfer pathway to urease. Hpn is only expressed in gastric Helicobacter species able to colonize the stomach and Hpn-2 is restricted to the H. pylori and its close relative H. acinonychis. We found that both proteins are essential for colonization of a mouse model by H. pylori. We conclude that during evolution, the acquisition of Hpn and Hpn-2 by gastric Helicobacter species was decisive for their capacity to colonize the stomach.