Helicobacter pylori infects the stomachs of half of all humans. It has a relatively benign relationship with most hosts but produces severe pathology, including gastric cancer, in others. Identifying the relative contributions of host, microbial, and environmental factors to the outcome of infection has been challenging. Here we describe one approach for identifying microbial genes that affect the magnitude of host responses to infection. Single colony purified H. pylori isolates were obtained from 25 cases and 71 controls in a Swedish case-control study of gastric cancer. Strains were first phenotyped based on their ability to produce adhesins that recognize two classes of human gastric epithelial receptors. Thirteen binding strains and two non-binding controls were then subjected to whole genome genotyping using H. pylori DNA microarrays. A cohort of "variable" genes was identified based on a microarray-determined call of "absent" in at least one member of the strain panel. Each strain was subsequently introduced into two types of germ-free transgenic mice, each programmed to express a different host factor postulated to pose increased risk for development of severe pathology. Expression of biomarkers of host defense was quantitated 4 weeks after inoculation, and the magnitude of the response correlated with bacterial genotype. The proportion of genes encoding HsdS homologs (specificity subunit of hetero-oligomeric type I restriction-modification systems) was significantly higher in the pool of 18 variable genes whose presence directly correlated with a robust host response than their proportion in the remaining 352 members of the variable gene pool. This suggests that the functions of these HsdS homologs may include control of expression of microbial determinants that affect the extent of gastric responses to this potentially virulent pathogen.