The complete genome sequence revealed a family of 32 outer membrane proteins (OMPs) in Helicobacter pylori. We examined the effect of four OMPs (HP0638, HP0796, HP1501, and babA2) on the production of the proinflammatory cytokine, IL-8. Mutants of the four OMPs, as well as cagE and galE from H. pylori from the U.S. and Japan, were constructed by inserting a chloramphenicol-resistant cassette into the gene. Twenty-two pairs of parental and mutant H. pylori strains, as well as 160 clinical isolates (80 from Japanese and 80 from U.S.), were cocultured with gastric cancer cell lines. IL-8 production in the supernatant and adhesion was assayed by ELISA. HP0796, HP1501, babA2, and galE gene knockouts had no significant effect on IL-8 production. Knockout of the HP0638 gene in 81% of cag-positive strains reduced IL-8 production approximately 50%. The three cag-positive strains in which IL-8 levels were unchanged by HP0638 knockout had five or seven CT dinucleotide repeats in the 5' region, resulting in a frame shift and truncation. Strains with naturally inactive HP0638 gene were all from the U.S.; Japanese strains were always "on" and thus, on average, may be more virulent. Although cag-negative isolates produced a limited IL-8 response, cag-negative strains that contained a functional HP0638 gene produced more than 3-fold greater IL-8 than cag-negative nonfunctional HP0638 strains. We hypothesize that functional HP0638 gene may be an important virulence factor in relation to the risk of clinically significant outcomes of H. pylori infection. We denote HP0638 gene as outer inflammatory protein (oipA).