Interleukin (IL)-10 is a potent anti-inflammatory and immune-regulatory cytokine. Mice deficient in IL-10 production (IL-10(-/-)) develop a spontaneous inflammatory bowel disease, indicating that IL-10 is an important regulator of the mucosal immune response in vivo. To study the role of IL-10 in the host response to gastric Helicobacter infection, stomachs of IL-10(-/-) and wild-type mice were colonized with Helicobacter felis, as a model of human H. pylori infection. Within 4 weeks of H. felis infection, wild-type mice develop a mild, focal chronic gastritis. In contrast, H. felis-infected IL-10(-/-) mice develop a severe hyperplastic gastritis, characterized by a dense, predominantly mononuclear cell inflammation of the mucosa and submucosa and epithelial cell proliferation and dedifferentiation. Within 4 weeks of H. felis infection, there are striking alterations in the character of the gastric epithelium from IL-10(-/-) mice, including a profound loss of parietal and chief cells, focal de novo production of acidic mucins, and marked epithelial proliferation with disordered epithelial architecture. These findings indicate that, in the absence of IL-10, the inflammatory and immunological responses of the murine host to gastric colonization with Helicobacter is a rapidly evolving pathological process with features that mimic those associated with H. pylori infection in humans. H. felis-infected IL-10(-/-) mice may provide a model with which to investigate the cellular and molecular changes that stem from gastric infection with H. pylori.