Broth-culture filtrates of Campylobacter pylori induced non-lethal cytopathic effects in vitro in 7 of 9 mammalian cell lines tested. Transmission electronmicroscopy revealed that the response consisted of intracellular vacuolisation. Intestine 407 cells were among the most responsive and were used for routine assay. About 55% of isolates of C. pylori tested, originating from four geographic regions worldwide, produced cytotoxic activity. The activity was neutralisable by specific antisera to broth-culture filtrates or to sonicated bacteria but not by antisera to other bacterial preparations. Cytotoxic activity was heat-labile (70 degrees C for 30 min), was protease-sensitive and ammonium-sulphate precipitable. It did not pass through an ultrafiltration membrane with a nominal mol.-wt limit of 100 X 10(3). It was concluded that C. pylori can produce a factor that alters cultured cells in vitro. The relevance of this factor to the pathogenesis of gastritis associated with C. pylori remains to be determined.