Helicobacter pylori is human gastric pathogen that causes chronic and progressive gastric mucosal inflammation and is responsible for the gastric inflammation-associated diseases, gastric cancer and peptic ulcer disease. Specific outcomes reflect the interplay between host-, environmental- and bacterial-specific factors. Progress in understanding putative virulence factors in disease pathogenesis has been limited and many false leads have consumed scarce resources. Few in vitro–in vivo correlations or translational applications have proved clinically relevant. Reported virulence factor-related outcomes reflect differences in relative risk of disease rather than specificity for any specific outcome. Studies of individual virulence factor associations have provided conflicting results. Since virulence factors are linked, studies of groups of putative virulence factors are needed to provide clinically useful information. Here, the authors discuss the progress made in understanding the role of H. pylori virulence factors CagA, vacuolating cytotoxin, OipA and DupA in disease pathogenesis and provide suggestions for future studies.