Following exposure to Helicobacter pylori cells, epithelial cell lines secreted interleukin-6 (IL-6) and IL-8 but not tumor necrosis factor alpha, Purified IL-6 alone did not stimulate IL-8 production from the cell lines tested, indicating that IL-6 was not an intermediary in IL-8 induction. Enhanced IL-8 secretion occurred in a time- and dose-dependent manner. None of 12 antibiotics tested exhibited a significant effect on IL-8-inducing activity, suggesting that preformed antigens were responsible for stimulating IL-8 secretion in vitro. Live bacterial cells caused the highest level of stimulation. Proteinase-digested and heated (56 or 100 degrees C) cells had significantly reduced stimulatory activities. Purified H. pylori lipopolysaccharide, but not exopolysaccharide, stimulated low-level secretion of IL-8, but only at high concentrations, while a water-extracted H. pylori antigen preparation was strongly stimulatory for HEp-2 cells. No reduction in IL-8-stimulalory activity was observed for H. pylori mutants negative for urease activity, production of a major lipoprotein, and motility. The noncytotoxic strain CCUG 915 stimulated lower IL-8 levels than other isolates. However, the otherwise isogenic cytotoxin-negative mutant 17874 Delta vacA (S. H. Phadnis, D. Ilver, L. Janzon, S. Normark, and T. U. Westblom, Infect. Immun. 62:1557-1565, 1994) had the same IL-8-stimulatory ability as the parent strain, suggesting that surface proteins other than the vacuolating cytotoxin are involved in IL-8 stimulation.