The mechanisms by which Helicobacter pylori releases its virulence factors are poorly known. Active secretion has been proposed for some products, including a vacuolating toxin (VacA). Outer membrane vesicles represent another mechanism by which some Gram-negative bacteria may release virulence factors. This study sought to localize VacA by immunocytochemistry in H. pylori cells, to determine whether H. pylori produces outer membrane vesicles, and to investigate whether such vesicles might constitute a vehicle for the delivery of bacterial virulence factors to the gastric mucosa. Small (50-300 nm) membrane vesicles were found in H. pylori culture media from both H. pylori strain 60190 and strain CCUG 17874. These vesicles appeared to originate from blebs arising on the bacterial outer membrane. VacA was immunolocalized in the periplasm and outer membrane of intact bacteria and also in outer membrane blebs and vesicles. Both soluble secreted VacA and VacA-containing vesicles bound to, and were internalized by, MKN28 cells and were detectable in the gastric mucosa from H. pylori-infected humans. The release of outer membrane vesicles by H. pylori may represent a mechanism, additional to secretory pathways, for the delivery of bacterial toxins and antigens to the gastric mucosa.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.