Biopsy specimens were taken from the duodenal bulb and the distal duodenum in 45 duodenal ulcer patients before and after treatment with histamine-2 antagonists, prostaglandin analogues or antacids. After four weeks of treatment, the ulcer had healed in 31 patients. The treatment did not lead to a reduced frequency of helicobacter-associated duodenitis or gastric metaplasia of the duodenal epithelium. We found gastric metaplasia in 52.3% of all biopsy specimens from the duodenal bulb, chronic active duodenitis in 71.9% and helicobacter-like structures in 15.9%. The helicobacter organisms were found only in areas of gastric metaplasia, and an accompanying chronic active duodenitis was found in 94.1%. In the distal duodenum, we observed chronic active duodenitis in 15.0% of the specimens. Here the inflammation was not associated with gastric metaplasia or helicobacter-like structures. These observations support the hypothesis that Helicobacter pylori colonizes the duodenal mucosa only in areas of gastric metaplasia, and that such colonization may lead to an active duodenitis.