An old adage once held that stomach ulcers arise from "hurry, worry, and curry." Scientists dispelled that notion in the early 1980s with the discovery that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori causes most such ulcers. Twenty years later, with the modern knowledge that half the world's people harbor H. pylori in their stomachs, scientists remain baffled as to why only a fraction of these infections leads to ulcers.
Research in mice now suggests that a protein on the surface of cells paves the way for a toxin produced by H. pylori to damage the stomach lining.
Earlier tests had turned up the protein, known as Ptprz, on cells exposed to
H. pylori toxin in lab dishes, says Masaharu Noda, a molecular neurobiologist at the National Institute for Basic Biology in Okazaki, Japan. Other research had indicated that the toxin destabilizes cells by causing the development of acid-filled compartments in them (SN: 10/4/97, p. 218).