Arthritis is often associated with intestinal diseases, but the etiology is not known. We developed a rat model whereby arthritis was reactivated by experimental small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SBBO). Self-limited monoarticular arthritis was induced by intra-articular injection of 2 micrograms of rhamnose peptidoglycan-polysaccharide derived from group A streptococci into the ankle joints in female Lewis rats. Eleven days after intra-articular injection, when swelling was resolving, experimental SBBO induced by surgical creation of jejunal self-filling blind loops reactivated arthritis, but SBBO induced by creation of self-emptying blind loops, which minimally increases luminal bacteria, and sham operation did not (P < 0.001). Increased joint diameters in rats with self-filling blind loops persisted for at least 56 days after surgery. Reactivation of arthritis due to SBBO was prevented by anti-tumor necrosis factor alpha antiserum and interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (P < 0.001), indicating that these cytokines mediate joint swelling secondary to intestinal injury. Recombinant bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein, an agent which neutralizes endotoxin, and metronidazole, which is active against anaerobic bacteria, prevented arthritis (P < 0.001), but polymyxin B (which also neutralizes endotoxin) and gentamicin had no effect. Mutanolysin, an enzyme which degrades peptidoglycan-polysaccharide from group A streptococci, exacerbated arthritis for the first 6 days but then diminished joint swelling from 12 to 21 days after surgery (P < 0.001). These studies introduce a reproducible animal model of reactivation of arthritis secondary to intestinal injury and demonstrate a role for bacterial products from endogenous enteric organisms.