Helicobacter pylori genome plasticity

D. A. Baltrus, M. J. Blaser, K. Guillemin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

17 Scopus citations


Helicobacter pylori, a Gram-negative pathogen associated with ulcers, chronic gastritis, and gastric cancers, has been a resident of the human stomach since early human history [1]. This association has only recently begun to erode with the advent of antibiotics and modern lifestyles, but even today H. pylori colonizes approximately half the world's population. To have remained a successful colonizer of humans during thousands of years of association, populations of H. pylori must have been able to survive and adapt to countless evolutionary challenges within and between hosts. As a species, H. pylori possesses one of the most fluid genomes within the prokaryotic kingdom [2], a characteristic that has likely aided its continued success. H. pylori exhibits exceptionally high rates of DNA point mutations, intragenomic recombination (facilitated by repetitive elements common in H. pylori genomes), and intergenomic recombination (mediated by natural transformation), all of which contribute to the high genomic variability between isolates. Previous reviews have focused on these processes as agents of evolutionary change within H. pylori [2-8]. The mechanisms of both mutation and natural transformation, and the evolutionary processes that retain genetic variation generated by these mechanisms, dictate the extent to which each contributes to genomic diversity in the context of different bacterial population structures [9-13]. Unlike well-studied evolutionary systems, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, H. pylori is notable in its lack of an environmental reservoir outside of human and other primate stomachs, suggesting that between-host survival is a relatively weak determinant of selection pressures [14, 15]. Given that H. pylori exist largely as distinct host-associated populations, it is possible to begin to model the evolutionary mechanisms that affect the long-term persistence of this species. In this chapter, we consider how the attributes of H. pylori's natural history as a long-term resident of the human stomach and the specific mechanisms of mutation and genetic exchange in this organism have shaped the H. pylori genome. We begin with a survey of genome plasticity in H. pylori. We then discuss mechanisms of mutation and natural transformation in H. pylori and examine experimental evidence for the generation of genomic changes within populations. Finally, we consider how different models of H. pylori population structure affect the relative contributions of mutation and recombination to the evolutionary success of this organism. By bridging evolutionary studies with investigations of pathogenesis from a molecular perspective, we hope to shed new light on how H. pylori has and continues to evolve with its human hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMicrobial Pathogenomics
EditorsHilde Reuse, Stefan Bereswill
Number of pages16
StatePublished - Aug 2009

Publication series

NameGenome Dynamics
ISSN (Print)1660-9263

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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