A rabbit model of pneumococcal meningitis was used to examine the importance of bactericidal vs. bacteriostatic antimicrobial agents in the therapy of meningitis 112 animals were infected with one of two strains of type III Streptococcus pneumoniae. Both strains were exquisitely sensitive to ampicillin, minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC)/minimum bactericidal concentration (MBC)<0.125 mug/ml. The activity of chloramphenicol against the two strains varied: strain(1)-MIC 2 mug/ml, MBC 16 mug/ml; strain(2)-MIC 1 mug/ml, MBC 2 mug/ml. Animals were treated with either ampicillin or chloramphenicol in dosages that achieved a peak bactericidal effect in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for ampicillin against both strains. Two different dosages were used for chloramphenicol. The first dosage achieved a peak CSF concentration of 4.4+/-1.1 mug/ml that produced a bacteriostatic effect against strain(1) and bactericidal effect against strain(2). The second dosage achieved a bactericidal effect against both strains (mean peak CSF concentration 30.0 mug/ml). All animals were treated intramuscularly three times a day for 5 d. CSF was sampled daily and 3 d after discontinuation of therapy for quantitative bacterial cultures. Results demonstrate that only antimicrobial therapy that achieved a bactericidal effect in CSF was associated with cure. Over 90% of animals treated with one of the bactericidal regimens (i.e., animals in which the bacterial counts in CSF dropped >5 log(10) colony-forming units [cfu]/ ml after 48 h) had sterile CSF after 5 d of treatment. On the other hand, the regimen that achieved bacteriostatic concentrations (CSF drug concentrations between the MIC and MBC) produced a drop of 2.4 log(10) cfu/ml by 48 h; however, none of the animals that survived had sterile CSF after 5 d. These studies clearly demonstrate in a strictly controlled manner that maximally effective antimicrobial therapy of experimental pneumococcal meningitis depends on achieving a bactericidal effect in CSF.