BACKGROUND: Perturbation of commensal intestinal microbiota has been associated with several autoimmune diseases. Mice deficient in interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (Il1rn -/- mice) spontaneously develop autoimmune arthritis and are susceptible to other autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, diabetes, and encephalomyelitis; however, the mechanisms of increased susceptibility to these autoimmune phenotypes are poorly understood. We investigated the role of interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) in regulation of commensal intestinal microbiota, and assessed the involvement of microbiota subsets and innate and adaptive mucosal immune responses that underlie the development of spontaneous arthritis in Il1rn -/- mice.RESULTS: Using high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing, we show that IL-1Ra critically maintains the diversity and regulates the composition of intestinal microbiota in mice. IL-1Ra deficiency reduced the intestinal microbial diversity and richness, and caused specific taxonomic alterations characterized by overrepresented Helicobacter and underrepresented Ruminococcus and Prevotella. Notably, the aberrant intestinal microbiota in IL1rn -/- mice specifically potentiated IL-17 production by intestinal lamina propria (LP) lymphocytes and skewed the LP T cell balance in favor of T helper 17 (Th17) cells, an effect transferable to WT mice by fecal microbiota. Importantly, LP Th17 cell expansion and the development of spontaneous autoimmune arthritis in IL1rn -/- mice were attenuated under germ-free condition. Selective antibiotic treatment revealed that tobramycin-induced alterations of commensal intestinal microbiota, i.e., reduced Helicobacter, Flexispira, Clostridium, and Dehalobacterium, suppressed arthritis in IL1rn -/- mice. The arthritis phenotype in IL1rn -/- mice was previously shown to depend on Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). Using the ablation of both IL-1Ra and TLR4, we here show that the aberrations in the IL1rn -/- microbiota are partly TLR4-dependent. We further identify a role for TLR4 activation in the intestinal lamina propria production of IL-17 and cytokines involved in Th17 differentiation preceding the onset of arthritis.CONCLUSIONS: These findings identify a critical role for IL1Ra in maintaining the natural diversity and composition of intestinal microbiota, and suggest a role for TLR4 in mucosal Th17 cell induction associated with the development of autoimmune disease in mice.