Germfree (GF) F344 rats developed severe adjuvant-induced arthritis with a 100% incidence after a single intradermal injection of heat-killed Mycobacterium bovis (BCG). Specific pathogene-free (SPF) rats developed less severe arthritis with a lower incidence. The rats colonized with Escherichia coli or Bacteroides developed mild disease comparable to that in SPF rats. The rats colonized with Bifidobacterium, Propionibacterium acnes, Lactobacillus casei, L. fermentum, L. murini, and L. acidophilus developed more severe disease than that in GF rats. Furthermore, the rats colonized with a mixture of E. coli and the above lactobacilli developed very mild disease similar to that in SPF rats. These results suggest that gram-negative bacteria, such as E. coli and Bacteroides, may suppress the disease, possibly through their lipopolysaccharides, and may be responsible for the lower susceptibility of SPF rats; gram-positive bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium, P. acnes, and lactobacilli, may enhance the disease, possibly through their peptidoglycans; and E. coli may play a dominant role in modulating the development of adjuvant-induced arthritis.