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Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1999 Oct;11(10):1143-50.

Motility of Helicobacter pylori in a viscous environment.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary's, London, UK.



Patients with gastroduodenal disease produce gastric mucus of higher viscosity, and mucins that are of a smaller size, than normal. We have modelled these changes to the mucus layer in solutions of methylcellulose, and measured bacterial motility in biopsied mucus, to assess how they might influence the movements of Helicobacter pylori.


Motilities of Helicobacter pylori were measured in solutions of methylcellulose with molecular mass of 14 and 41 kDa, and in biopsied mucus with a Hobson BacTracker. Four parameters of bacterial motility were quantified: curvilinear velocity (CLV), path length, track linearity and curvature rate.


All H. pylori were motile in methylcellulose solutions, and had optimal motilities at a viscosity of 3 cp (CLV in methylcellulose of 41 kDa, for instance, was 33 +/- 1.4 microm/s (mean +/- SEM) and the path length in methylcellulose of 41 kDa was 22.4 +/- 2 microm). At higher viscosities, mean CLVs, path lengths and curvature rates decreased, and track linearities increased in direct proportion to the increase in methylcellulose viscosity. Bacteria become non-motile at a viscosity of 50 cp in methylcellulose of 14 kDa, and at 70 cp in methylcellulose of 41 kDa. Mean CLVs, path lengths and curvature rates (but not track linearities) were greater in methylcellulose of 41 kDa than in methylcellulose of 14 kDa at each viscosity tested. Motilities of H. pylori from patients with duodenal ulcer or non-ulcer dyspepsia in methylcellulose solutions were not significantly different. H. pylori had poor motility in biopsied mucus, but became highly motile when biopsied mucus was diluted with saline.


The viscosity-motility profiles of H. pylori in methylcellulose and the motilities of H. pylori in biopsied mucus suggest (1) that H. pylori may have poor motility in mucus at the epithelial surface, but high motility at the luminal surface of the mucus layer, and (2) that the increased mucus viscosity and decreased mucin size in patients with gastroduodenal disease act in combination to decrease H. pylori motility in vivo.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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