The aim of this study was to understand the immune processes controlling the initiation and spontaneous resolution of adjuvant arthritis (AA). We investigated synovial T-cell recruitment and mRNA expression of IL-17 and other important disease related cytokines, IFN-gamma, IL-2, IL-4, TNF and TGF-beta in inguinal lymph node (ILN) and synovial membrane (SM). Arthritis severity was assessed by a numerical rating score and rats were sacrificed every 3--4 days postadjuvant induction. Further assessment involved quantitative radiology and histology of the ankle joints on each day, and the ILN and SM were removed for RNA extraction. Cytokine mRNA expression was measured using RT-PCR and densitometry. Paraffin sections of rat ankle joints were stained for T-cells (CD3) by immunohistochemistry. In the ILN, there was an increase in IL-17, TNF and IFN-gamma expression in the early stages of disease, with a secondary sustained increase in IFN-gamma expression. In the SM, there was expression of T-cell cytokines in early arthritis (day 13), and prolonged TNF and TGF-beta expression, which reflected disease progression. IL-4 mRNA expression increased in the later stages of AA. Synovial T-cell numbers transiently increased at day 6, and remained high from days 13--28. Increased pro-inflammatory cytokine expression, including IL-17, in the ILN reflects the initiating events in the early stage of disease. IL-17 may therefore play an important role in the pathogenesis of AA. The increase in IL-4 (an anti-inflammatory cytokine) in the SM in the later stages of AA suggests that IL-4 is involved in the spontaneous resolution of AA. The initial increase in IFN-gamma in the ILN may reflect a pro-inflammatory response, while the prolonged secondary increase may indicate activation of regulatory T-cells.