We have shown in several controlled rat and human infection studies that dietary calcium improves intestinal resistance and strengthens the mucosal barrier. Reinforcement of gut barrier function may alleviate inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Therefore, we investigated the effect of supplemental calcium on spontaneous colitis development in an experimental rat model of IBD. HLA-B27 transgenic rats were fed a purified high-fat diet containing either a low or high calcium concentration (30 and 120 mmol CaHPO(4)/kg diet, respectively) for almost 7 wk. Inert chromium EDTA (CrEDTA) was added to the diets to quantify intestinal permeability by measuring urinary CrEDTA excretion. Relative fecal wet weight was determined to quantify diarrhea. Colonic inflammation was determined histologically and by measuring mucosal interleukin (IL)-1beta. In addition, colonic mucosal gene expression of individual rats was analyzed using whole-genome microarrays. The calcium diet significantly inhibited the increase in intestinal permeability and diarrhea with time in HLA-B27 rats developing colitis compared with the control transgenic rats. Mucosal IL-1beta levels were lower in calcium-fed rats and histological colitis scores tended to be lower (P = 0.08). Supplemental calcium prevented the colitis-induced increase in the expression of extracellular matrix remodeling genes (e.g. matrix metalloproteinases, procollagens, and fibronectin), which was confirmed by quantitative real-time PCR and gelatin zymography. In conclusion, dietary calcium ameliorates several important aspects of colitis severity in HLA-B27 transgenic rats. Reduction of mucosal irritation by luminal components might be part of the mechanism. These results show promise for supplemental calcium as effective adjunct therapy for IBD.