Adult mice from seven different colonies were studied with regard to (a) the numbers and types of bacteria that could be cultivated from their stools; (b) their resistance to the lethal effect of endotoxins prepared from three strains of Gram-negative bacilli.
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In six of the seven colonies, the stools yielded large numbers of various types of lactobacilli, enterococci, and Gram-negative bacilli. Most animals in these colonies died within 48 hours following injection of endotoxin.
The other mouse colony (NCS) has been maintained for the past three years at the Rockefeller Institute under exacting sanitary conditions; it is free of many types of common mouse pathogens. The stool flora of NCS mice yielded very large numbers of viable lactobacilli (109 per gm), representing at least three different morphological types. In contrast, it contained only few enterococci and Gram-negative bacilli (less than 106 per gm). Moreover, E. coli, Proteus sp., and Pseudomonas sp. could not be recovered from the stools under normal conditions. NCS mice proved resistant to the lethal effect of endotoxins.
These characteristics of the NCS colony prevailed whether the animals were housed continuously in individual cages on wire grids, or grouped continuously in large cages with wood shavings as litter. However, the composition of the bacterial flora could be rapidly and profoundly altered by a variety of unrelated disturbances such as sudden changes in environmental temperature, crowding in cages, handling of the animals, administration of antibacterial drugs, etc. The first effect of the change was a marked decrease in the numbers of lactobacilli and commonly an increase in the numbers of Gram-negative bacilli and enterococci. When tested 3 weeks after these disturbances some NCS animals were found to have become susceptible to the lethal effects of endotoxin.