The Helicobacter pylori toxin VacA causes vacuolar degeneration in mammalian cell lines in vitro and plays a key role in peptic ulcer disease. Two alleles, m1 and m2, of the mid-region of the vacA gene have been described, and the m2 cytotoxin always has been described as inactive in the in vitro HeLa cell assay. However, the m2 allele is associated with peptic ulcer and is prevalent in populations in which peptic ulcer and gastric cancer have high incidence. In this paper, we show that, despite the absence of toxicity on HeLa cells, the m2 cytotoxin is able to induce vacuolization in primary gastric cells and in other cell lines such as RK-13. The absence of Hela cell activity is due to an inability to interact with the cell surface, suggesting a receptor-mediated interaction. This result is consistent with the observation that the m2 allele is found in a population that has a high prevalence of peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer. VacA is the first bacterial toxin described for which the same active subunit can be delivered by different receptor binding domains.