Invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells play a protective role in the development of certain autoimmune diseases. However, their precise role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune arthritis remains unclear. In this study, we examined the possible contribution of iNKT cells in collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) by using iNKT cell-deficient mice (Jalpha281-/- mice). CIA in these mice was markedly suppressed and interleukin (IL)-17 production was reduced in a native type II collagen (CII)-specific T cell response. Draining lymph nodes of CII-immunized Jalpha281-/- mice contained a significantly low number of IL-17-producing T helper cells. To determine whether iNKT cells produce IL-17, we measured IL-17 by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in iNKT cells stimulated with the ligand, alpha-galactosylceramide (alpha-GalCer). Notably, splenocytes from Jalpha281-/- mice stimulated in this way were negative for IL-17, whereas those from C57BL/6 mice produced IL-17. Immunostaining for IL-17 in iNKT cells confirmed intracellular staining of the protein. RT-PCR analysis showed that iNKT cells expressed retinoid-related orphan receptor gammaT and IL-23 receptor. Moreover, cell sorting demonstrated that NK1.1- iNKT cells were the main producers of IL-17 compared with NK1.1+ iNKT cells. IL-17 production by iNKT cells was induced by IL-23-dependent and -independent pathways, since iNKT produced IL-17 when stimulated with either IL-23 or alpha-GalCer alone. Our findings indicate that iNKT cells are producers and activators of IL-17 via IL-23- dependent and -independent pathways, suggesting that they are key cells in the pathogenesis of CIA through IL-17.