Campylobacter rectus (formerly Wolinella recta) in periodontitis lesions was studied relative to age and sex distribution, relationship to disease-active periodontitis, response to periodontal debridement and in vitro antimicrobial susceptibility. Subgingival C. rectus was collected with paper points, transported in VMGA III and plated onto nonselective enriched brucella blood agar and Hammond's selective medium for C. rectus, both incubated anaerobically. C. rectus was recovered from 80% of 1654 periodontitis patients. Although the organism showed similar age and sex occurrence, its proportional recovery in culture-positive adults was inversely related to increasing age (r = 0.999, P < 0.001). The organism was positively associated (summary odds ratio = 2.95) with disease activity in a 24-month longitudinal study of 93 adult periodontitis patients on maintenance therapy. C. rectus decreased from 8.2% to 0.7% following local periodontal debridement of 20 culture-positive adult periodontitis patients. The organism exhibited high in vitro susceptibility to therapeutic levels of tetracycline hydrochloride, metronidazole, penicillin G and ciprofloxacin. These findings further delineate the epidemiology and potential pathogenic role of C. rectus in human periodontitis.