The pH of the human gastric mucosa varies around 2.5 so that only bacteria with strong acidic stress tolerance can colonize it. The ulcer causing Helicobacter pylori thrives in the gastric mucosa. We analyse the roles of the key outer membrane protein OMPLA in its roles in acid tolerance.
The homology model of Helicobacter pylori outer membrane phospholipase A (OMPLA) reveals a twelve stranded β-barrel with a pore that allows molecules to pass with a diameter up to 4 Å. Structure based multiple sequence alignments revealed the functional roles of many amino acids, and led to the suggestion that OMPLA has multiple functions. Besides its role as phospholipase it lets urea enter and ammonium exit the periplasm. Combined with an extensive literature study, our work leads to a comprehensive model for H. pylori’s acid tolerance. This model is based on the conversion of urea into ammonium, and it includes multiple roles for OMPLA and involves two hitherto little studied membrane channels in the OMPLA operon.
The three-dimensional model of OMPLA predicts a transmembrane pore that can aid H. pylori’s acid tolerance through urea influx and ammonium efflux. After urea passes through OMPLA into the periplasm, it passes through the pH-gated inner membrane channel UreI into the cytoplasm where urease hydrolyses it into NH3 and CO2. Most of the NH3 becomes NH4
+ that is likely to need an inner membrane channel to reach the periplasm. Two genes that are co-regulated with OMPLA in gastric Helicobacter operons could aid this transport. The NH4
+ that might leave the cell through the OMPLA pore has been implicated in H. pylor’s pathogenesis.
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