It is thought that the normal enteric microflora acts not only to prevent intestinal colonization but also to prevent subsequent systemic dissemination of ingested, potentially pathogenic bacteria. To determine the relative roles of specific components of the intestinal bacterial flora in bacterial translocation out of the gut, mice were given various antimicrobial agents to selectively eliminate specific groups of intestinal bacteria. The cecal flora and the translocating bacteria in mesenteric lymph nodes were monitored both before and after oral inoculation with antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli C25. Orally administered streptomycin selectively eliminated cecal facultative gram-negative bacilli, orally administered bacitracin-streptomycin eliminated all cecal bacterial species except low numbers of aerobic sporeformers, and parenterally administered metronidazole selectively eliminated cecal anaerobic bacteria. Compared with control mice, only metronidazole-treated mice had significantly increased rates of dissemination of intestinal bacteria into mesenteric lymph nodes, indicating that the exclusive absence of anaerobic bacteria facilitated the translocation of the intestinal facultative bacteria. In a parallel experiment with streptomycin-resistant E. coli C25 as a marker, parallel results were obtained. Metronidazole increased the translocation of the marker strain and the indigenous strains of intestinal bacteria. Thus, anaerobes appeared to play a key role in confining indigenous bacteria to the gut. However, intestinal colonization and translocation of E. coli C25 occurred most readily after bacitracin-streptomycin treatment, suggesting that in addition to anaerobic bacteria, other bacterial groups may play a role in limiting the intestinal colonization and extraintestinal dissemination of E. coli C25.