Chronic inflammation induced by Helicobacter pylori infection has been associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer. We have analysed 167 stomach biopsies from 99 patients for H. pylori infection and immunohistochemically for the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), catalase and superoxide dismutases (SODs) as markers of oxidative stress. Biopsies were graded as follows on the basis of histology: normal, superficial gastritis, variable severity of atrophic gastritis with or without intestinal metaplasia, and dysplasia. iNOS was detected in inflammatory cells in all types of gastritis with or without H. pylori infection and independently of its severity. In foveolar cells, iNOS was observed in ~25% of all biopsies showing any type of gastritis, but in a markedly higher proportion of dysplastic samples. Catalase and Mn-type SOD in inflammatory cells and catalase in foveolar cells were more frequently observed in marked atrophic gastritis biopsies than in less severe gastritis. Individual differences were found in the expression of these enzymes within groups with the same severity of gastritis. Prolonged oxidative stress in severe gastritis and dysplasia may play an important role in gastric carcinogenesis, through increased damage of DNA and tissues by reactive oxygen and nitrogen species.