Bacterial translocation from the gut may be the primary event in many disease processes. The purpose of this study was to examine the route of nutrient administration on bacterial translocation from the gut. Each of 90 female Fischer rats underwent placement of a central venous catheter and was randomized to one of three groups. Group I (control) received food and water ad libitum. Group II received standard TPN solution orally from a bottle sipper and drank the solution ad libitum. Group III underwent TPN via the central catheter by pair feeding of the animals with group II. Animals were fed for 2 weeks, and liver, spleen, mesenteric lymph nodes, blood, and cecum were aseptically obtained for culture. A statistically significant difference (p less than 0.014) was found between translocation rates of parenterally fed animals compared with enterally fed animals. Two thirds of the animals (18/27) fed parenterally had culture-positive mesenteric lymph nodes compared with one third (9/27) of the enterally fed group and none (0/30) of the control group. A statistically significant increase in the cecal bacterial count was demonstrated in the animals fed the TPN solution, independent of route. Parenteral nutrition promotes bacterial translocation from the gut by increasing the cecal bacterial count and impairing intestinal defense.