The only experimental data available on the membrane topology of transition metal ATPases are from in vitro studies on two distinct P-type ATPases (CadA and CopA) of a gastric bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, both postulated to contain eight transmembrane domains (H1 to H8). In this study, H. pylori CadA ATPase was subjected to analysis of membrane topology in vivo by expression of ATPase-alkaline phosphatase (AP) hybrid proteins in Escherichia coli using a novel vector, pBADphoA. This vector contains an inducible arabinose promoter and unique restriction sites for fusion of DNA fragments to phoA. The phoA gene lacking sequences encoding its N-terminal signal peptide was linked to the C-terminal regions of the postulated five cytoplasmic and four periplasmic segments of the H. pylori pump. The results obtained by heterologous expression of ATPase-AP hybrid proteins showed consistence with a model of eight transmembrane domains. They also demonstrated that the H. pylori ATPase sequences are well assembled in the cytoplasmic membrane of E. coli, a neutralophilic bacterium. Cloning and amino acid sequence analysis of the homologous ATPase of Helicobacter felis further verified the topological model for the H. pylori pump analyzed here, although the degree of amino acid sequence identity varied between the corresponding transmembrane segments, from 25% for H1 up to 100% for H6. It was found that the topology of ATPase follows the 'positive inside rule'. With respect to the bioenergetic capacities of H. pylori, we discuss here the membrane potential as a possible factor directing insertion of ATPases in the cytoplasmic membrane of gastric bacteria.