To test the hypothesis that herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) may be associated with peptic ulcer disease, we examined ulcerative lesions of the distal stomach and proximal duodenum for the presence of nucleic acids and antibodies specific for HSV-1. Utilizing in situ hybridization, immunocytochemistry, and polymerase chain reaction with sequencing, gastric or duodenal tissues from 4 of 22 patients (18%) with documented peptic ulcer disease demonstrated the presence of both specific HSV-1 nucleic acid sequences and proteins. HSV-1 was found restricted in clusters of cells near the margin of the ulcer but was absent at sites distal to the lesion. Several of such HSV-1-infected cells also contained cholecystokinin. These cholecystokinin-containing cells are of neuroendocrine origin and receive contact from the vagal nerve. Campylobacter pylori bacteria were not found in three of the four peptic ulcer tissues that harbored HSV-1. Further, none of the stomach or duodenal tissue samples from 33 patients undergoing clinical evaluation, but having no evidence of peptic ulcer disease, had HSV-1 materials. Thus, our data suggest that a subset of peptic ulcer disease may be associated with HSV-1 and raise the possibility that some peptic ulcers may be caused by this virus.