The stomach is frequently involved in children suffering from Crohn's disease (CD). Diagnosis of specific gastritis may be difficult when granulomas are absent. We have used in situ hybridization to examine the expression of interleukin (IL)-12, a key cytokine in the Th1 response. IL-12 p35 and p40 antisense probes were used to examine ileal specimens from 9 children with CD and gastric biopsies from 24 children (13 with CD, 6 with Helicobacter pylori chronic gastritis, and 5 with a normal gastric mucosa). In all patients with CD, many clusters of IL-12-positive cells were present in the lamina propria. This was the case in the ileal specimens as well as in gastric mucosa showing granulomatous gastritis or nongranulomatous gastritis. The same distribution patterns were found for the IL-12 p35 and p40. In three patients with Helicobacter pylori gastritis, few scattered IL-12-positive cells were found. No positive cells were found in the normal gastric mucosa. The focally enhanced IL-12 expression in the gastric mucosa of pediatric patients with CD, with or without specific lesions, suggests that both are indeed linked to the disease and supports the major part of IL-12 in initiating and maintaining of the cascade resulting in the Th1 responses.