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Bacterial translocation seems to precede the occurrence of overt bacterial infection in patients with cirrhosis. The presence of bacterial DNA in blood and ascites correlates with bacterial translocation and is frequent in patients with advanced cirrhosis without overt infection. Our aim was to search for bacterial DNA in patients with cirrhosis both with and without ascites, and to study its correlation with abnormal intestinal motility or permeability and the presence of bacterial overgrowth.Blood and ascites samples were obtained on day 1, and blood samples were taken twice a day for the following 3 days. Bacterial DNA was assayed by polymerase chain reaction using universal primers for rRNA 16 s. Oro-caecal transit time and bacterial overgrowth were assessed with Lactulose H2 breath testing. Intestinal permeability was assessed by determining urinary lactulose and mannitol excretion with high performance liquid chromatography.We studied seven patients (six were male, age range was 42–78 years). Aetiology was alcohol in four, HCV in two, HBV in one; ascites was present in four and Child−Pugh grade was A in four and B in three. All patients had increased intestinal permeability, six had decreased transit time and one had bacterial overgrowth. In only one patient (with ascites), polymerase chain reaction was positive for bacterial DNA both in ascites and serum for all 4 days on which samples were taken.Increased intestinal permeability and abnormal motility were frequent without evidence of bacterial translocation in cirrhosis even without ascites. They are likely to be facilitators for bacterial translocation and thus precede it.