Non-motile variants of Helicobacter pylori (strain 26695) occurred with a frequency of 1.6 (SD 0.4) x 10(-4) variants/cell/division cycle, and reversion to the motile form occurred with a frequency of less than 10(-7) variants/cell/division cycle. The two forms remained greater than 90% pure for up to 50 cell divisions and differed only in the presence or absence of motility and flagella. Bacteria were recovered from nine of 10 gnotobiotic piglets inoculated orally with motile H. pylori, but from only two of eight inoculated with the non-motile variant. The motile form survived for 21 days in infected piglets, but the non-motile variant survived for only 6 days. Bacteria recovered from piglets inoculated with the non-motile variant were non-motile. These data support the hypothesis that motility is a colonisation factor for H. pylori.