Little is known about the temporal changes in Helicobacter pylori density and B-cell clonality during the evolution from chronic gastritis to gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma. Biopsied specimens from 28 patients with chronic gastritis who developed gastric MALT lymphoma (group A) and from 24 similar patients who did not (group B) during an equivalent follow-up period (mean, 42 months) were retrospectively scored for histological features of MALT lymphoma (0 to 5) and H. pylori density (0 to 3). B-cell clonality was analyzed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). During the observation period, the H. pylori density in group A decreased significantly in comparison with group B; the mean change in H. pylori density (final minus initial density) per 1000 days was -1.4 for group A and +0.2 for group B (P < 0.005). Monoclonality was detected more frequently in group A (79%) than in group B (21%; P < 0.005), and it preceded the histological evidence of malignant transformation in 64% of those patients who showed monoclonality in group A. These results suggest that H. pylori is thus more closely associated with the precursor or initial phase in the genesis of gastric MALT lymphoma than with the later phase, as its density decreases as the tumor progresses. The detection of B-cell monoclonality by PCR is thus of possible use for predicting the histological genesis of gastric lymphoma.