BACKGROUND: Longstanding Helicobacter pylori infection may increase the risk of developing gastric adenocarcinoma. The sequence of chronic active gastritis leading to gastritis with atrophy and subsequent intestinal metaplasia is thought to be a key step in gastric carcinogenesis. Ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity is increased in some pre-malignant gastrointestinal conditions and is essential for malignant transformation in vitro. AIMS: To measure ODC activity in the antrum of H pylori infected and non-infected subjects and to relate this to histological abnormalities associated with recent and longstanding H pylori infection. METHODS: Six antral mucosal biopsy specimens were obtained from 75 patients for detailed histological assessment and measurement of ODC activity. Samples were measured in duplicate and results expressed as median, interquartile range in pmol/mg protein/h. RESULTS: ODC activity was significantly higher in H pylori positive (164, 88-259 pmol/mg/h) than H pylori negative subjects (99.8, 55-158 pmol/mg/h, p = 0.003). However the presence of gastritis, irrespective of the severity of inflammation or activity had no influence on ODC activity. Gastritis with atrophy was associated with increased ODC activity, which was closely related to the severity of the atrophy (p = 0.01). Similarly, ODC activity was significantly increased in subjects with intestinal metaplasia (196, 83-25) compared with those without intestinal metaplasia (111.7, 65-175, p < 0.04). CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate that the histological changes associated with longstanding H pylori infection rather than inflammation alone are associated with increased polyamine biosynthetic activity. This may be relevant to H pylori associated gastric carcinogenesis.
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