Commensal microbes can have a substantial impact on autoimmune disorders, but the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms remain largely unexplored. We report that autoimmune arthritis was strongly attenuated in the K/BxN mouse model under germ-free (GF) conditions, accompanied by reductions in serum autoantibody titers, splenic autoantibody-secreting cells, germinal centers, and the splenic T helper 17 (Th17) cell population. Neutralization of interleukin-17 prevented arthritis development in specific-pathogen-free K/BxN mice resulting from a direct effect of this cytokine on B cells to inhibit germinal center formation. The systemic deficiencies of the GF animals reflected a loss of Th17 cells from the small intestinal lamina propria. Introduction of a single gut-residing species, segmented filamentous bacteria, into GF animals reinstated the lamina propria Th17 cell compartment and production of autoantibodies, and arthritis rapidly ensued. Thus, a single commensal microbe, via its ability to promote a specific Th cell subset, can drive an autoimmune disease. Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.