How Bacteria Could Cause Cancer: One Step at a Time

Trends Microbiol. 2002 Jun;10(6):293-9. doi: 10.1016/s0966-842x(02)02360-0.


Helicobacter pylori highlighted the potential for bacteria to cause cancer. It is becoming clear that chronic infection with other bacteria, notably Salmonella typhi, can also facilitate tumour development. Infections caused by several bacteria (e.g. Bartonella spp., Lawsonia intracellularis and Citrobacter rodentium) can induce cellular proliferation that can be reversed by antibiotic treatment. Other chronic bacterial infections have the effect of blocking apoptosis. However, the underlying cellular mechanisms are far from clear. Conversely, several bacterial toxins interfere with cellular signalling mechanisms in a way that is characteristic of tumour promoters. These include Pasteurella multocida toxin, which uniquely acts as a mitogen, and Escherichia coli cytotoxic necrotizing factor, which activates Rho family signalling. This leads to activation of COX2, which is involved in several stages of tumour development, including inhibition of apoptosis. Such toxins could provide valuable models for bacterial involvement in cancer, but more significantly they could play a direct role in cancer causation and progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism
  • Apoptosis
  • Bacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Bacterial Infections / complications*
  • Bacterial Infections / epidemiology
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism*
  • Bartonella / metabolism
  • Bartonella / pathogenicity
  • Cell Division
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / microbiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • rho-ATPase