Background: In the autumn of 1992, a novel form of chronic, active hepatitis of unknown etiology was discovered in mice at the National Cancer Institute-Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center (NCI-FCRDC), Frederick, Md. A high incidence of hepatocellular tumors occurred in affected animals. The disease entity was originally identified in A/JCr mice that were untreated controls in a long-term toxicologic study.
Purpose: Our original purpose was to determine the origin and etiology of the chronic hepatitis and to quantify its association with hepatocellular tumors in mice of low liver tumor incidence strains. After a helical microorganism was discovered in hepatic parenchyma of diseased mice, we undertook characterization of the organism and investigation of its relationship to the disease process.
Methods: Hepatic histopathology of many strains of mice and rats, as well as guinea pigs and Syrian hamsters, in our research and animal production facilities was reviewed. Steiner's modification of the Warthin-Starry stain and transmission electron microscopy were used to identify bacteria in the liver. We transmitted the hepatitis with liver suspensions from affected mice and by inoculation with bacterial cultures. Bacteria were cultivated on blood agar plates maintained under anaerobic or microaerophilic conditions and characterized morphologically, biochemically, and by 16S rRNA sequence.
Results: We report here the isolation of a new species of Helicobacter (provisionally designated Helicobacter hepaticus sp. nov.) that selectively and persistently colonizes the hepatic bile canaliculi of mice (and possibly the intrahepatic biliary system and large bowel), causing a morphologically distinctive pattern of chronic, active hepatitis and associated with a high incidence of hepatocellular neoplasms in infected animals.
Conclusions: The novel Helicobacter is a likely candidate for the etiology of hepatocellular tumors in our mice. The Helicobacter-associated chronic active hepatitis represents a new model to study mechanisms of carcinogenesis by this genus of bacteria.
Implications: Adenocarcinoma of the stomach, the second most prevalent of all human malignancies world-wide, is associated with infection at an early age with Helicobacter pylori. Infection leads to several distinctive forms of gastritis, including chronic atrophic gastritis, which is a precursor of adenocarcinoma. H. hepaticus infection in mice constitutes the only other parallel association between a persistent bacterial infection and tumor development known to exist naturally. Study of the H. hepaticus syndrome of chronic active hepatitis and liver tumors in mice may yield insights into the role of H. pylori in human stomach cancer and gastric lymphoma.