Addition of penicillin, Terramycin, or kanamycin to the drinking water of adult mice rapidly induced in them an enlargement of the cecum. In all animals, this occurred within 12 hr after the beginning of drug administration—the effect being most pronounced with penicillin. The cecums remained enlarged and generally continued to increase in size as long as the antibacterial drugs were administered.
The increase in wet weight of the cecums was due primarily to an accumulation of water in the lumens during the first 24–48 hr of drug administration. At that time, there were no detectable histological changes in any case, but the bacteriological picture differed from drug to drug. The cecums were free of bacteria in animals receiving penicillin, fusiform-shaped bacteria and bacteroides were present in those receiving Terramycin, and lactobacilli and bacteroides in those receiving kanamycin. After the initial 48 hr, an abundant and complex secondary microflora developed in all treated animals, its composition being characteristic for each type of antibacterial drug.
When penicillin was administered for 2 wk, the cecal weights and microbial populations did not return to normal levels for over 14 days after discontinuance of the drug. This recovery period could be shortened to 10 days by giving the mice food contaminated with cecal homogenates prepared from normal animals. A period of 7 or 8 days was required for the cecal weights and microflora to reach normal levels when the administration of penicillin lasted only 24 hr; this period could not be shortened by giving the animals contaminated food.
The effects of drugs on the size and bacterial contents of the cecum have been discussed in the light of earlier findings concerning the characteristics of the huge cecums uniformly found in germfree mice. Taken together, these observations support the hypothesis that certain elements of the intestinal microflora—not yet completely identified—play an essential role in maintaining the integrity of the water-transport mechanism in the intestinal epithelium.