Interleukin (IL)-10-deficient (IL-10-/-) mice develop colitis under specific pathogen-free (SPF) conditions and remain disease free if kept sterile (germ free [GF]). We used four different protocols that varied the time-points of oral administration of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (L. plantarum) relative to colonization with SPF bacteria to determine whether L. plantarum could prevent and treat colitis induced by SPF bacteria in IL-10-/- mice and evaluated the effect of this probiotic organism on mucosal immune activation. Assessment of colitis included blinded histologic scores, measurements of secreted colonic immunoglobulin isotypes, IL-12 (p40 subunit), and interferon (IFN)-gamma production by anti-CD3-stimulated mesenteric lymph node cells. Treating SPF IL-10-/- mice with L. plantarum attenuated previously established colonic inflammation as manifested by decreased mucosal IL-12, IFN-gamma, and immunoglobulin G2a levels. Colonizing GF animals with L. plantarum and SPF flora simultaneously had no protective effects. Gnotobiotic IL-10-/- mice monoassociated with L. plantarum exhibited mild immune system activation but no colitis. Pretreatment of GF mice by colonization with L. plantarum, then exposure to SPF flora and continued probiotic therapy significantly decreased histologic colitis scores. These results demonstrate that L. plantarum can attenuate immune-mediated colitis and suggest a potential therapeutic role for this agent in clinical inflammatory bowel diseases.