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Open Access Research article

Stimulation of growth of the human gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori by atmospheric level of oxygen under high carbon dioxide tension

Shin Ae Park, Ara Ko and Na Gyong Lee*

Author affiliations

Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology, Sejong University, Seoul 143-747, Republic of Korea

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Citation and License

BMC Microbiology 2011, 11:96  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-11-96

Published: 11 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Helicobacter pylori (Hp), a human pathogen that is associated with gastritis, peptic ulcer, and gastric cancer, has been considered a microaerophile, but there is no general consensus about its specific O2 requirements. A clear understanding of Hp physiology is needed to elucidate the pathogenic mechanism(s) of Hp infection.

Results

We cultured Hp under a range of O2 levels with or without 10% CO2 and evaluated growth profiles, morphology, intracellular pH, and energy metabolism. We found that, in the presence of 10% CO2, the normal atmospheric level of O2 inhibited Hp growth at low density but stimulated growth at a higher density. Field emission scanning electron microscopy and fluorescence microscopy of Hp cells cultured under 20% O2 tension revealed live spiral-shaped bacteria with outer membrane vesicles on a rugged cell surface, which became smooth during the stationary phase. Fermentation products including acetate, lactate, and succinate were detected in cell culture media grown under microaerobic conditions, but not under the aerobic condition. CO2 deprivation for less than 24 h did not markedly change cytoplasmic or periplasmic pH, suggesting that cellular pH homeostasis alone cannot account for the capnophilic nature of Hp. Further, CO2 deprivation significantly increased intracellular levels of ppGpp and ATP but significantly decreased cellular mRNA levels, suggesting induction of the stringent response.

Conclusions

We conclude, unlike previous reports, that H. pylori may be a capnophilic aerobe whose growth is promoted by atmospheric oxygen levels in the presence of 10% CO2. Our data also suggest that buffering of intracellular pH alone cannot account for the CO2 requirement of H. pylori and that CO2 deprivation initiates the stringent response in H. pylori. Our findings may provide new insight into the physiology of this fastidious human pathogen.

Keywords:
Helicobacter pylori; growth; atmospheric oxygen level; carbon dioxide