Native type II collagen is tolerogenic when given orally or i.p. to DBA/1J mice and induces autoimmune arthritis when given s.c. in CFA. The tolerogenic epitope is contained in cyanogen bromide fragment 11 (CB11) and is structurally mimicked by PGEQGPK within the platelet aggregation-associated protein (PAAP) on Streptococcus sanguis. To learn whether S. sanguis modulates transmucosally the Ag-specific development of autoimmune arthritis, DBA/1J pups were given live S. sanguis, CB11, or type II collagen intragastrically. Feeding S. sanguis at 6 days postpartum delayed the onset of arthritis, and reduced the rate, final severity, and percentage of affected limbs. Next, PAAP+ S. sanguis and type II collagen were tested for T cell cross-reactivity. T cells primed with the tolerogenic epitope of type II collagen proliferated more when incubated with PAAP+ S. sanguis than with PAAP- Streptococcus gordonii or type II collagen, suggesting an Ag-specific transmucosal tolerogenic effect. In neonatal mice, therefore, bacterial surface Ags that mimic self can transmucosally stimulate Ag-specific inhibitory T cells. In adult mice immunized with type II collagen, these Ag-specific inhibitory T cells manifest later as attenuated arthritis. The PAAP+ S. sanguis appear to activate adult memory, rather than naive, type II collagen-specific T cells, suggesting that systemic challenge with commensal self-mimicking microorganisms may perpetuate existing autoimmunity, but not initiate autorecognition.