A cytotoxin produced by some Helicobacter pylori strains has recently been identified. The cytotoxin induces intracellular vacuolization of cultured cells. The aim of the present study was to examine the frequency of occurrence of cytotoxin-producing strains of H. pylori from subjects with upper gastrointestinal disease including nonulcer dyspepsia, gastric and duodenal ulcer disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and gastric cancer. Broth culture filtrates of clinical isolates of H. pylori recovered from 175 patients were used to inoculate Vero and HeLa cell monolayers for the detection of vacuolating cytotoxin activity. The results obtained demonstrated that the highest percentage of strains producing cytotoxin were found in subjects with peptic ulcer disease (gastric ulcer, 65%; duodenal ulcer, 66%; P < 0.01 compared with nonulcer dyspepsia, 38%). Of the 11 patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease, 4 of 5 patients in this group who had esophageal ulcers, were found to be infected with strains that produced cytotoxin. Three of the four patients with carcinoma of the stomach were also found to be infected with cytotoxic strains of H. pylori. With increasing severity of mucosal damage in subjects with a normal upper gastrointestinal tract, macroscopic gastritis, duodenitis, and peptic ulceration, there were corresponding increase in the proportion of strains producing cytotoxin; these increases were 32, 46, 50, and 66%, respectively. H. pylori strains from subjects with ulcer disease commonly produced vacuolating cytotoxin, suggesting that it may be a virulence factor in the pathogenesis of peptic ulcer disease.