Background: Infection with Helicobacter pylori is a major risk factor for the development of atrophic gastritis and gastric cancer. H. pylori strains can differ with respect to the presence of cagA (cytotoxin-associated gene A), a gene encoding a high-molecular-weight immunodominant antigen. H. pylori strains possessing cagA have been associated with enhanced induction of acute gastric inflammation.
Purpose: We investigated the relationship between cagA status and the development of atrophic gastritis in a cohort of subjects infected with H. pylori.
Methods: Gastrointestinal endoscopy with biopsy sampling was used to study the natural history of gastritis in 58 subjects infected with H. pylori. Biopsy specimens were obtained before and after a mean follow-up period of 11.5 years (range, 10-13 years). The cagA status of each individual was determined at the follow-up visit with the use of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay designed to detect the presence of serum immunoglobulin G directed against the CagA protein. Two-sided Fisher's exact tests, McNemar's tests, Student's t tests, and Wilcoxon sum rank tests were used to analyze the data.
Results: Twenty-four (41%) of the 58 evaluated subjects had serum antibodies against CagA (i.e., they were cagA positive), and 34 subjects were cagA negative. At the initial visit, moderate to severe atrophic gastritis was observed in eight (33%) of the cagA-positive subjects and in six (18%) of the cagA-negative subjects. At that time, positive cagA status and gastric atrophy were not significantly related (P = .22; Fisher's exact test; odds ratio [OR] 2.33; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.58-9.65). During follow-up, 16 (36%) of the 44 initially atrophy-negative subjects developed atrophic gastritis (eight [50%] of 16 cagA-positive subjects versus eight [29%] of 28 cagA-negative subjects; P = .20, Fisher's exact test; relative risk [RR] = 1.75; 95% CI = 0.82-3.76). In six of these 16 subjects (five cagA positive versus one cagA negative), atrophic gastritis was accompanied by the development of intestinal metaplasia (i.e., a change in the type of specialized cells present) (P = .02; Fisher's exact test; RR = 9.06; 95% CI = 1.16-71.0). One of the initially atrophy-negative, cagA-positive subjects developed early gastric cancer. Four (29%) of the 14 subjects initially diagnosed with atrophic gastritis showed regression of atrophy during follow-up (one cagA positive and three cagA negative). Therefore, at the end of follow-up, 15 (62%) of the 24 cagA-positive subjects had atrophic gastritis compared with 11 (32%) of the 34 cagA-negative subjects (P = .02; Fisher's exact test; OR = 3.48; 95% CI = 1.02-12.18).
Conclusion: Infection with cagA-positive H. pylori strains is associated with an increased risk for the eventual development of atrophic gastritis and intestinal metaplasia.