Helicobacter pylori eradication is generally accepted as the first choice of treatment for stage IE low-grade gastric MALT lymphoma (mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue-type lymphoma). Treatment failure may be attributed to the extent of the disease and to progression into an antigen-independent phase. This study assessed the value of morphological grading and the expression of the co-stimulatory markers CD40, CD80 and CD86 and their ligands to predict clinical outcome in 23 consecutive low-grade MALT lymphoma patients treated with H. pylori eradication. Complete regression was achieved in 13/23 patients (56%), partial regression in two (9%), and no response in eight (35%). Histological grading was highly predictive of clinical response, especially in stage IE(1) patients, with complete remissions in 10/12 tumours with purely low-grade (type A) morphology and 1/8 tumours with increased numbers of blasts (type B) (p=0.0046) and was related to the expression of costimulatory markers (p=0.0061). Moreover, CD86 as a single marker proved to be of predictive value for treatment outcome (p=0.0086). These results suggest that morphological grading and immunological criteria can be defined to recognize the transition into the antigen-independent phase of gastric MALT-NHL. In addition to clinical stage, these critera may in future serve as a practical pathological guide to the choice of therapy.