Objectives: Helicobacter pylori is an identified carcinogen for gastric cancer, however, the underlying mechanisms remain to be defined. In this review, we sought to elucidate the role of apoptosis in gastric carcinogenesis, to determine the influence of H. pylori infection on apoptosis, and finally to provide insights into the mechanisms by which H. pylori may lead to gastric carcinogenesis.
Methods: A broad-based MEDLINE and Current Contents literature search was performed to identify relevant publications between 1966 and March 2000 addressing H. pylori infection, apoptosis, cell proliferation, gastric carcinoma, oncogenes, and tumor suppressor genes, as well as the products of these genes. Abstracts from recent major conferences that provided adequate additional data were also included.
Results: Apoptotic cells are rare in the glandular neck region (the generative cell zone) of normal gastric mucosa. With progression of atrophic gastritis, the generative cell zone shifts downward and a relatively large number of apoptotic cells occur. In intestinalized glands, both apoptotic cells and proliferative cells are present in deeper portions of the glands, corresponding to the generative zone. A higher frequency of apoptosis has been observed in gastric dysplasia than in coexisting gastric carcinomas, whereas the number of proliferative cells is significantly higher in gastric carcinoma than in dysplasia. Upregulation of oncogene bcl-2 in premalignant lesions and "downregulation" of the gene after malignant change is probably a common event. Accumulation of p53 protein is first detected in dysplasia, although mutation of the pS3 gene may occur in intestinal metaplasia. H. pylori infection induces apoptosis in gastric epithelial cells, which returns to normal after eradication of the infection. Numerous molecules produced by H. pylori including cytotoxin (VacA), lipopolysaccharide, monochloramine, and nitric oxide may directly induce apoptosis. Moreover, H. pylori-stimulated host inflammatory/immune responses lead to release of a large amount of cytokines. Cytokines produced by type 1 T helper cells, such as TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma, markedly potentiate apoptosis. Gastric cell proliferation is significantly higher in patients with H. pylori infection than in normal controls, and eradication of the infection leads to a reduction in cell proliferation. Apoptosis and cell proliferation are also increased in precancerous lesions such as gastric atrophy, intestinal metaplasia, and dysplasia in the presence of H. pylori infection. However, H. pylori-induced apoptosis may no longer be cell cycle-dependent in these lesions because of the occurrence of alterations and mutations of apoptosis-regulating genes, resulting in a loss of balance between apoptosis and cell proliferation.
Conclusions: It is hypothesized that H. pylori-induced apoptosis may play a key role in gastric carcinogenesis by increasing cell proliferation and/or resulting in gastric atrophy.