VacA generates a protective intracellular reservoir for Helicobacter pylori that is eliminated by activation of the lysosomal calcium channel TRPML1.


Department of Paediatrics and Physiology, University of Toronto; Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, and Cell Biology Program, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. [Email]


Helicobacter pylori infection is a proven carcinogen for gastric cancer. Its virulence factor vacuolating cytotoxin A (VacA) promotes more severe disease and gastric colonization. VacA, by an unknown mechanism, usurps lysosomal and autophagy pathways to generate a protected reservoir for H. pylori that confers bacterial survival in vitro. Here, we show the existence of a VacA-generated intracellular niche in vivo that protects the bacteria from antibiotic treatment and leads to infection recrudescence after therapy. Furthermore, we report that VacA targets the lysosomal calcium channel TRPML1 to disrupt endolysosomal trafficking and mediate these effects. Remarkably, H. pylori that lack toxigenic VacA colonize enlarged dysfunctional lysosomes in the gastric epithelium of trpml1-null mice, where they are protected from eradication therapy. Furthermore, a small molecule agonist directed against TRPML1 reversed the toxic effects of VacA on endolysosomal trafficking, culminating in the clearance of intracellular bacteria. These results suggest that TRPML1 may represent a therapeutic target for chronic H. pylori infection.