Evolved to vary: genome and epigenome variation in the human pathogen Helicobacter pylori

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2021 Jan 8;45(1):fuaa042. doi: 10.1093/femsre/fuaa042.


Helicobacter pylori is a Gram-negative, spiral shaped bacterium that selectively and chronically infects the gastric mucosa of humans. The clinical course of this infection can range from lifelong asymptomatic infection to severe disease, including peptic ulcers or gastric cancer. The high mutation rate and natural competence typical of this species are responsible for massive inter-strain genetic variation exceeding that observed in all other bacterial human pathogens. The adaptive value of such a plastic genome is thought to derive from a rapid exploration of the fitness landscape resulting in fast adaptation to the changing conditions of the gastric environment. Nevertheless, diversity is also lost through recurrent bottlenecks and H. pylori's lifestyle is thus a perpetual race to maintain an appropriate pool of standing genetic variation able to withstand selection events. Another aspect of H. pylori's diversity is a large and variable repertoire of restriction-modification systems. While not yet completely understood, methylome evolution could generate enough transcriptomic variation to provide another intricate layer of adaptive potential. This review provides an up to date synopsis of this rapidly emerging area of H. pylori research that has been enabled by the ever-increasing throughput of Omics technologies and a multitude of other technological advances.

Keywords: Helicobacter pylori; evolution; genomics; methylome; restriction-modification systems; transcriptome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Epigenome / genetics*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genome, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Helicobacter pylori / genetics*