Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is characterized by a dysregulated intestinal immune response with elevated levels of the Th1 cytokines TNF, IL-12 and IFN-gamma. The luminal flora has been implicated as a major factor contributing to the initiation and perpetuation of chronic intestinal inflammation by as yet unknown mechanisms. Bacterial DNA contains unmethylated cytosine-guanosine dinucleotides (CpG) which strongly activate Th1-mediated immune responses. To test whether these CpG-motifs contribute to intestinal inflammation we treated mice with dextran-sulfate-sodium (DSS)-induced acute or chronic colitis for 5 days with CpG-containing oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG-ODN). Colonic inflammation was assessed by histological scoring. Colonic cytokine RNA was quantified by reverse transcription-PCR and cytokine secretion from mesenterial lymph node cells by ELISA. In chronic colitis, CpG-ODN treatment severely aggravated inflammation by 50%. Colonic expression of IFN-gamma and TNF was elevated (200- and 150-fold, respectively) and IFN-gamma and IL-12 secretion from lymph node cells was increased 5,000- and 8-fold, respectively, compared to GpG-ODN-treated controls. Similar effects were obtained in acute colitis. In conclusion, CpG-motifs of bacterial DNA have proinflammatory activity by strengthening the Th1 arm of immunity in DSS-induced colitis, and might therefore play a significant role in the initiation and perpetuation of inflammation in IBD.