Bacteria and their products stimulate inflammatory responses. The effects of different antimicrobial regimens (amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, tobramycin, imipenem, vancomycin, metrodidazole) were investigated on the course of experimental colitis induced by trinitrobenzenesulphonic acid (TNB) in the rat. On day 7 and 21 after the induction of colitis, matched groups of control and antibiotic treated rats were subjected to colonic dialysis to measure eicosanoid release, and killed for morphological assessment of the colonic lesions (macro and microscopic scores). Stool samples were cultured. Selective antibiotic treatment against Gram positive, Gram negative or anaerobic bacteria had no effect on colodic lesion scores. By contrast, certain broad spectrum antibiotics (amoxicillin/clavulanic acid or the association of imipenem plus vancomycin) significantiy reduced macro and microscopic scores. Rats receiving these antibiotics did not develop chronic colitis as shown by the virtual absence of colonic strictures, adhesions, fibrosis, and granulomas. On day 21 after TNB, the intracolonic release of prostaglandin E2, thromboxane B2, and leukotriene B4 was significantly higher in control than in antibiotic treated rats. Control stool cultures showed abundant colony forming units of both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria. Amoxicillin/clavulanic acid and imipenem plus vancomycin induced appreciable reductions in luminal bacteria. In conclusion, certain broad spectrum antibiotics prevent chronic colitis. The normal colonic flora seems to play an important pathogenetic part in the progression of inflammatory colonic lesions to chronicity.