AIMS: To investigate differences in expression of keratin 20, a cytoskeletal protein in gastrointestinal epithelial cells, in completely differentiated intestinal metaplasia (type I) and incomplete metaplasia (types II and III). METHODS: Gastric biopsy specimens from 66 patients with intestinal metaplasia were analysed immunohistochemically. Expression of keratin 20 was quantified as the percentage of immunoreactive cells on the tips, the upper, and deep foveolae. RESULTS: In all specimens keratin 20 was found on the tips and in the upper foveolae of intestinal metaplasia. Keratin 20 was not observed in the deep foveolae. No differences were seen between the antrum and the body. Expression patterns were comparable between types I and III. In type II, however, lower immunoreactivity was found. Both the differences between types I and II as well as between types II and III were significant (p < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Keratin 20 is expressed in metaplastic mucosa as a result of intestinal differentiation. Positive staining found exclusively in juxtaluminal cells occurs only in mature cells containing keratin 20. Lowered immunoreactivity in type II compared with types I and III indicates the different nature of type II intestinal metaplasia. Further studies are needed to shed light on the basic fundamental mechanism responsible for this.