Interleukin (IL)-17-producing CD4(+) T lymphocytes (T(H)17 cells) constitute a subset of T-helper cells involved in host defence and several immune disorders. An intriguing feature of T(H)17 cells is their selective and constitutive presence in the intestinal lamina propria. Here we show that adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) that can be derived from commensal bacteria activates a unique subset of lamina propria cells, CD70(high)CD11c(low) cells, leading to the differentiation of T(H)17 cells. Germ-free mice exhibit much lower concentrations of luminal ATP, accompanied by fewer lamina propria T(H)17 cells, compared to specific-pathogen-free mice. Systemic or rectal administration of ATP into these germ-free mice results in a marked increase in the number of lamina propria T(H)17 cells. A CD70(high)CD11c(low) subset of the lamina propria cells expresses T(H)17-prone molecules, such as IL-6, IL-23p19 and transforming-growth-factor-beta-activating integrin-alphaV and -beta8, in response to ATP stimulation, and preferentially induces T(H)17 differentiation of co-cultured naive CD4(+) T cells. The critical role of ATP is further underscored by the observation that administration of ATP exacerbates a T-cell-mediated colitis model with enhanced T(H)17 differentiation. These observations highlight the importance of commensal bacteria and ATP for T(H)17 differentiation in health and disease, and offer an explanation of why T(H)17 cells specifically present in the intestinal lamina propria.