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Summary

The pathogenicity of many bacteria colonizing the gastrointestinal tract often depends on their ability to gain access to cells that are normally non-phagocytic. Helicobacter pylori colonizes the stomach of over half the world population and is the main cause of peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer. It is generally considered to be a non-invasive pathogen present only in the lumen of the stomach and attached to gastric epithelial cells although a number of in vivo and in vitro studies have demonstrated that H. pylori is in fact invasive. In addition, H. pylori can repopulate the extracellular environment after complete elimination of extracellular bacteria with gentamicin, suggesting it may be considered a facultative intracellular bacterium. This review examines the validity of these observations and describes the evidence suggesting that the intracellular presence of H. pylori plays a role in the induction of diseases, in immune evasion, and in life-long persistence of the bacterium in the stomach of a majority of humans.