Vitamin D-deficient IL-10 knockout (KO) mice develop accelerated inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Removing dietary calcium from the diets of vitamin D-deficient IL-10 KO mice increased the severity of IBD. The mice fed either calcium or active vitamin D (1 alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, 1,25D3), developed an intermediate form of IBD, while the mice fed both calcium and 1,25D3 had the mildest form of IBD. TNF-alpha secretion from Con A-stimulated splenocytes was reduced by dietary calcium or 1,25D3 treatment. The IL-10 KO mice that received both high calcium diets and 1,25D3 treatments had the lowest TNF-alpha production. In the colons, a TNF-alpha-inducing transcription factor, LPS-induced TNF-alpha factor (LITAF), was inhibited by 1,25D3, but not by calcium. The inhibition of several TNF-alpha-related genes was associated with the decreased colitis in 1,25D3-treated IL-10 KO mice. Furthermore, fulminating IBD in vitamin D receptor/IL-10 double-KO mice corresponded with the increased expression of TNF-alpha and LITAF in the colon. Our results suggest that dietary calcium has independent effects on IBD severity and that 1,25D3 and high calcium together result in the maximal suppression of experimental IBD. The data support a model where dietary calcium and 1,25D3 treatment directly and indirectly inhibit the TNF-alpha pathway and suppress IBD.