Cell proliferation in the gastroduodenal mucosa of patients with duodenal ulcers was evaluated using flow cytometry. Forty patients with duodenal ulcers and 12 normal subjects were investigated. Biopsy samples were obtained during endoscopic examination and subjected to DNA analysis by flow cytometry. Thirty patients with duodenal ulcers were healed within 3 months with H2 blockers (tractable or responsive ulcers), whereas 10 patients did not respond to treatment (intractable ulcers). The percentage of cells at the DNA-synthetic phase, an index of cell proliferation, was constant in the adjacent duodenal mucosa 2 cm from ulcer margin and antral mucosa during duodenal ulcer healing. The index at the margin of tractable ulcers was elevated during the active stage (12.9 ± 1.3), peaked during the healing stage (15.4 ± 2.8) and returned to the same level at the scarring stage (10.9 ± 2.0) as normal controls (10.3 ± 1.7). However, the index was not elevated in intractable ulcers (10.3 ± 1.7 in the healing stage) and was smaller than in tractable ulcers. These data indicate that augmented mucosal cell proliferation at the ulcer margin plays an important role in duodenal ulcer healing and intractable ulcers are characterized by an abnormal failure to accelerate DNA synthesis to achieve ulcer repair.