Importance of EGF receptor, HER2/Neu and Erk1/2 kinase signalling for host cell elongation and scattering induced by the Helicobacter pylori CagA protein: antagonistic effects of the vacuolating cytotoxin VacA

Cell Microbiol. 2009 Mar;11(3):488-505. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2008.01269.x. Epub 2008 Nov 25.


Helicobacter pylori is the causative agent of gastric pathologies ranging from chronic gastritis to peptic ulcers and even cancer. Virulent strains carrying both the cag pathogenicity island (cagPAI) and the vacuolating cytotoxin VacA are key players in disease development. The cagPAI encodes a type IV secretion system (T4SS) which forms a pilus for injection of the CagA protein into gastric epithelial cells. Injected CagA undergoes tyrosine phosphorylation and induces actin-cytoskeletal rearrangements involved in host cell scattering and elongation. We show here that the CagA-induced responses can be inhibited in strains expressing highly active VacA. Further investigations revealed that VacA does not interfere with known activities of phosphorylated CagA such as inactivation of Src kinase and cortactin dephosphorylation. Instead, we demonstrate that VacA exhibits inactivating activities on the epidermal growth factor receptor EGFR and HER2/Neu, and subsequently Erk1/2 MAP kinase which are important for cell scattering and elongation. Inactivation of vacA gene, downregulation of the VacA receptor RPTP-alpha, addition of EGF or expression of constitutive-active MEK1 kinase restored the capability of H. pylori to induce the latter phenotypes. These data demonstrate that VacA can downregulate CagA's effects on epithelial cells, a novel molecular mechanism showing how H. pylori can avoid excessive cellular damage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, Bacterial / toxicity
  • Bacterial Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Proteins / toxicity
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology*
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Helicobacter pylori / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / metabolism*
  • Models, Biological
  • Receptor, ErbB-2 / metabolism*


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • VacA protein, Helicobacter pylori
  • cagA protein, Helicobacter pylori
  • ERBB2 protein, human
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Receptor, ErbB-2
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3