Although it is fairly well accepted that Helicobacter pylori infection plays a significant role in causing gastric cancer, the exact mechanisms involved in its pathogenesis are unclear. We have examined the relationship between H. pylori infection and oncogene expression in different stages of disease progression from precursor lesions to gastric carcinoma. We used Diff-Quik stain to diagnose H. pylori infection and immunohistochemical stains against c-erbB-2, p53, ras, c-myc, and bcl-2 to determine expression of oncogenes. H. pylori infection was found in all cases of chronic gastritis, atrophic gastritis, intestinal metaplasia, and early gastric carcinoma, and in 16 of 30 (53%) cases of advanced gastric carcinoma. Overexpression of c-erbB-2 was found in 2 (7%) cases of advanced gastric carcinoma, which were H. pylori negative. Suppressor gene, p53, was overexpressed in 3 (30%) cases of intestinal metaplasia, 2 (33%) cases of early gastric carcinoma, and 18 (60%) cases of advanced gastric carcinoma. Of these 18 p53-positive advanced gastric cancer cases, 11 (61%) were H. pylori positive. Expression of ras p21 was found in 4 (40%) cases of H. pylori-negative normal mucosa, 10 (100%) cases of chronic gastritis, 1 (10%) case of atrophic mucosa, 6 (60%) cases of intestinal metaplasia, 2 (33%) cases of nonneoplastic mucosa adjacent to early gastric carcinoma, and 7 (23%) nonneoplastic mucosa adjacent to advanced gastric carcinoma, all of which showed H. pylori. No evidence of expression of either c-myc or bcl-2 was detected in any of the above-mentioned samples. The data suggest that H. pylori infection may increase expression of ras p21 proteins and induce p53 suppressor gene mutation early in the process of gastric carcinogenesis.