Idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic relapsing condition. The role of stress in causing relapses of inflammatory bowel disease remains controversial. We now show that colitis induced in mice by dinitrobenzenesulfonic acid (DNBS) resolves by 6 weeks, but can subsequently be reactivated by stress plus a sub-threshold dose of DNBS, but not by DNBS alone. Stress reduced colonic mucin and increased colon permeability. Susceptibility to reactivation by stress required CD4+ lymphocytes and could be adoptively transferred. We conclude that stress reactivates experimental colitis by facilitating entry of luminal contents that activate previously sensitized CD4 cells in the colon.