Although the effects of commensal bacteria on intestinal immune development seem to be profound, it remains speculative whether the gut microbiota influences extraintestinal biological functions. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a devastating autoimmune disease leading to progressive deterioration of neurological function. Although the cause of MS is unknown, microorganisms seem to be important for the onset and/or progression of disease. However, it is unclear how microbial colonization, either symbiotic or infectious, affects autoimmunity. Herein, we investigate a role for the microbiota during the induction of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model for MS. Mice maintained under germ-free conditions develop significantly attenuated EAE compared with conventionally colonized mice. Germ-free animals, induced for EAE, produce lower levels of the proinflammatory cytokines IFN-γ and IL-17A in both the intestine and spinal cord but display a reciprocal increase in CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs). Mechanistically, we show that gut dendritic cells from germ-free animals are reduced in the ability to stimulate proinflammatory T cell responses. Intestinal colonization with segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB) is known to promote IL-17 production in the gut; here, we show that SFBs also induced IL-17A-producing CD4(+) T cells (Th17) in the CNS. Remarkably, germ-free animals harboring SFBs alone developed EAE, showing that gut bacteria can affect neurologic inflammation. These findings reveal that the intestinal microbiota profoundly impacts the balance between pro- and antiinflammatory immune responses during EAE and suggest that modulation of gut bacteria may provide therapeutic targets for extraintestinal inflammatory diseases such as MS.