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PLoS One. 2015 Jun 25;10(6):e0131460. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131460. eCollection 2015.

Instrumental Role of Helicobacter pylori γ-Glutamyl Transpeptidase in VacA-Dependent Vacuolation in Gastric Epithelial Cells.

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Department of Microbiology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore.
Monoclonal Antibody Unit, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore, Singapore.
Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore.


Helicobacter pylori causes cellular vacuolation in host cells, a cytotoxic event attributed to vacuolating cytotoxin (VacA) and the presence of permeant weak bases such as ammonia. We report here the role of γ-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT), a constitutively expressed secretory enzyme of H. pylori, in potentiating VacA-dependent vacuolation formation in H. pylori-infected AGS and primary gastric cells. The enhancement is brought about by GGT hydrolysing glutamine present in the extracellular medium, thereby releasing ammonia which accentuates the VacA-induced vacuolation. The events of vacuolation in H. pylori wild type (WT)- and Δggt-infected AGS cells were first captured and visualized by real-time phase-contrast microscopy where WT was observed to induce more vacuoles than Δggt. By using semi-quantitative neutral red uptake assay, we next showed that Δggt induced significantly less vacuolation in AGS and primary gastric epithelial cells as compared to the parental strain (P<0.05) indicating that GGT potentiates the vacuolating effect of VacA. Notably, vacuolation induced by WT was significantly reduced in the absence of GGT substrate, glutamine (P<0.05) or in the presence of a competitive GGT inhibitor, serine-borate complex. Furthermore, the vacuolating ability of Δggt was markedly restored when co-incubated with purified recombinant GGT (rGGT), although rGGT itself did not induce vacuolation independently. Similarly, the addition of exogenous ammonium chloride as a source of ammonia also rescued the ability of Δggt to induce vacuolation. Additionally, we also show that monoclonal antibodies against GGT effectively inhibited GGT activity and successfully suppressed H. pylori-induced vacuolation. Collectively, our results clearly demonstrate that generation of ammonia by GGT through glutamine hydrolysis is responsible for enhancing VacA-dependent vacuolation. Our findings provide a new perspective on GGT as an important virulence factor and a promising target in the management of H. pylori-associated gastric diseases.

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