In this study, 27 volunteers received one of three non-O group 1 Vibrio cholerae strains in doses as high as 10(9) CFU. Only one strain (strain C) caused diarrhea: this strain was able to colonize the gastrointestinal tract, and produced a heat-stable enterotoxin (NAG-ST). Diarrhea was not seen with a strain (strain A) that colonized the intestine but did not produce NAG-ST, nor with a strain (strain B) that produced NAG-ST but did not colonize. Persons receiving strain C had diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Diarrheal stool volumes ranged from 154 to 5,397 ml; stool samples from the patient having 5,397 ml of diarrhea were tested and found to contain NAG-ST. The median incubation period for illness was 10 h. There was a suggestion that occurrence of diarrhea was dependent on inoculum size. Immune responses to homologous outer membrane proteins, lipopolysaccharide, and whole-cell lysates were demonstrable with all three strains. Our data demonstrate that V. cholerae of O groups other than 1 are able to cause severe diarrheal disease. However, not all strains are pathogenic for humans: virulence of strain C may be dependent on its ability both to colonize the intestine and to produce a toxin such as NAG-ST.