Gene regulation: Can we stomach it?

Feb 23, 2010
Helicobacter pylori (blue) with cells of the intestinal epithelium (orange). Image: Brinkmann

(PhysOrg.com) -- A breakthrough in decoding gene regulation of Helicobacter pylori has been made by an international research team led by Jörg Vogel of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany.

Using a newly developed sequencing technique, the re-searchers discovered 60 small (sRNAs) - tiny RNA-particles which can regulate genes - in the genome of this human pathogen. These findings could facilitate the development of new therapeutic strategies against this wide-spread pathogen. (Nature, February 17th 2010)

About 50 percent of the world’s population carry Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in their - 30 percent of the German population are infected. Besides cancer, these bacteria are linked to other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease. The decoding of the H. pylori genome in 1997 revealed this pathogen to possess surprisingly few genes for transcriptional regulators, sparking a number of crucial questions: Where do the genes of Helicobacter start, and how are these switched on and off? Have all genes been discovered already?

Researchers have been searching for new types of gene regulators in this pathogen, especially for sRNAs. It has recently been realized that these tiny particles are far more abundant in all organisms than previously thought. They can regulate genes by binding to sequences of the genetic information, thereby inhibiting the production of a protein. Yet strangely enough, sRNAs seemed to be lacking in Helicobacter. Jörg Vogel, leader of the RNA Biology Group at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, and his team have finally tracked down a number of sRNAs in the pathogen. To enable their discovery, they modified a technique called "deep sequencing", to decipher millions of RNA-sequences newly produced in a cell. The surprised scientists found 60 sRNAs: "To date, it was believed that this organism completely lacks sRNAs", says Vogel.

A new model for gene regulation?

"We found as many sRNAs in Helicobacter as in widespread intestinal bacteria like Escherichia coli or Salmonella", explains Vogel. But a very important protein required for the regulation of gene expression by sRNAs is missing in . The stomach pathogen possibly uses different signalling pathways, which makes it a possible candidate as a model in RNA-research. "We hope to get completely new insights into ", says Vogel.

Thanks to the novel technique, the researchers could also define the starting point of every gene in Helicobacter. "It enables us to interpret the genome in a completely new way", explains Vogel. This success, achieved in collaboration with scientists from Leipzig (Germany) and Bordeaux (France), could facilitate the development of a vaccine against the pathogen. Vogel’s team will now apply the new sequencing technique to other food-borne . Interesting candidates are Campylobacter jejuni, which besides Salmonella is the most frequent cause for infectious diarrhoea.

Explore further: Scientists find key to te first cell differentiation in mammals

More information: Cynthia M. Sharma, et al., The primary transcriptome of the major human pathogen Helicobacter pylori, Nature, Februar 17th 2010 online publication (doi: 10.1038/nature08756)

Related Stories

Gastric ulcer bacteria turn immune defense inwards

Jan 25, 2010

Despite a strong response from our immune defence, the body is unable to rid itself of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. One reason for this is that this bacterium encourages elements of the immune response to remain in tis ...

New pathogen from pigs' stomach ulcers

Jun 09, 2008

Scientists have isolated a new bacterium in pigs' stomachs thanks to a pioneering technique, offering hope of new treatments to people who suffer with stomach ulcers, according to research published in the June issue of the ...

Taking sharper aim at stomach ulcer bacteria

Sep 30, 2009

Scientists are reporting discovery of a much sought after crack in the armor of a common microbe that infects the stomachs of one-sixth of the world's population, causing stomach ulcers and other diseases. They identified ...

Recommended for you

Research helps identify memory molecules

17 hours ago

A newly discovered method of identifying the creation of proteins in the body could lead to new insights into how learning and memories are impaired in Alzheimer's disease.

Computer simulations visualize ion flux

19 hours ago

Ion channels are involved in many physiological and pathophysiological processes throughout the human body. A young team of researchers led by pharmacologist Anna Stary-Weinzinger from the Department of Pharmacology ...

Neutron diffraction sheds light on photosynthesis

19 hours ago

Scientists from ILL and CEA-Grenoble have improved our understanding of the way plants evolved to take advantage of sunlight. Using cold neutron diffraction, they analysed the structure of thylakoid lipids found in plant ...

DNA may have had humble beginnings as nutrient carrier

Sep 01, 2014

New research intriguingly suggests that DNA, the genetic information carrier for humans and other complex life, might have had a rather humbler origin. In some microbes, a study shows, DNA pulls double duty ...

Central biobank for drug research

Sep 01, 2014

For the development of new drugs it is crucial to work with stem cells, as these allow scientists to study the effects of new active pharmaceutical ingredients. But it has always been difficult to derive ...

User comments : 0