BACKGROUND: Helicobacter pylori infection of the gastric mucosa is strongly associated with gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, and gastric cancer. However, the mechanisms by which H. pylori causes cancer are currently unknown. Binding of epidermal growth factor (EGF) to its receptor (EGFR) may be important in the development of gastric cancer. This interaction accelerates cell proliferation and migration, and triggers epithelial cell signaling. In this study, we investigated the effects of H. pylori on EGFR- and AP-1-mediated signal transduction pathways in the AGS gastric epithelial cell line and gastric tissue from humans. METHODS: Cells were treated with H. pylori and cell death was examined at a variety of time points using cell viability and trypan blue exclusion dye assay. To investigate the effects on EGFR regulation, AGS cells were transfected with a full-length and truncated EGFR luciferase (luc) reporter. Tissue microarray containing 44 samples of gastric biopsies from H. pylori-positive patients was analyzed for protein expression level of EGFR by immunohistochemistry. RESULTS: EGFR promoter activity was increased (∼twofold) 3 h after treatment with H. pylori commenced. Using a series of EGFR promoter deletion mutants, we identified a region that was crucial for transactivation of the EGFR by H. pylori. To determine whether AP-1 binding was altered, we transfected AGS cells with an AP-1 luciferase construct and then treated them with H. pylori for up to 6 h. We found that AP-1 activity was induced by H. pylori in gastric cells, while electrophoretic mobility shift assays confirmed that binding of AP-1 to the EGFR promoter site was increased following H. pylori treatment. Binding of c-Jun and c-Fos to the EGFR promoter region -1,062/-900 was induced eight- and six fold, respectively, using ChIP assay. Active EGFR staining was markedly increased in gastric mucosa from infected persons, compared to uninfected controls. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that exposure of gastric cells to H. pylori induces increased production of EGFR through various signal transduction pathways, including those mediated by the EGFR and AP-1. Distinct effects on EGFR activation may specify the subset of AP-1 target genes that are selected, including those involved in proliferation and apoptosis. This is consistent with EGFR activation that was found in the gastric mucosa of humans infected with H. pylori. Hence, the balance between apoptosis and proliferation in these cells may be altered in response to injury caused by H. pylori infection, leading to an increased risk of cancer.
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