Adherence of Helicobacter pylori to gastric epithelial cells is thought to be important in the pathogenesis of infection and may be essential to maintain lifelong colonization. However, the factors responsible for adherence to gastric epithelial cells in vivo have not been characterized, and the significance of adherence to standard epithelial cell lines is unclear. Hemagglutination is also thought to be important in H. pylori adherence. However, no studies have clearly linked H. pylori hemagglutination or adherence to cultured epithelial cells to primary gastric epithelial cell adherence. Furthermore, it is not clear whether laboratory strains which have undergone multiple passages lose potential colonization factors. In this study, we examined the effect of serial laboratory passage on hemagglutination and correlated the hemagglutination characteristics of H. pylori strains to primary gastric cell adherence. Variable expression of hemagglutination was seen with serial laboratory passage of 15 strains. After 100 serial laboratory passages, all strains had lost hemagglutination activity. Hemagglutination was seen in association with adherence to primary gastric cells in vitro isolated from 2 patients. An association with ultrastructural intimate adherence was seen with HEp-2 cells, but not with gastric adenocarcinoma cells. Ultrastructural adherence was seen in corresponding antral biopsies of patients whose strains were hemagglutination positive, but hemagglutination was not associated with gastric inflammation. These data indicate that H. pylori hemagglutination is lost with serial passage and that hemagglutination may play a role in the attachment of H. pylori to gastric epithelial cells, but the role of adherence to chronic gastric inflammation is unclear.