We aimed to study intestinal immune activation status in juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) by assessing intestinal human leucocyte antigen (HLA) class II expression and the mRNA expression levels of the pro- and anti-inflammatory mediators and pattern recognition receptors. HLA-D-related (HLA-DR) expression was assessed using immunohistochemical staining of frozen sections in 11 children with JIA and 17 controls. The gene expression levels of the anti- and proinflammatory cytokines, lymphocyte recognition receptors and pattern recognition receptors were studied with reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT–PCR) in 14 children with JIA and 12 controls. All subjects had various gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms indicating endoscopic examinations, but eventually were not diagnosed with GI disease. In JIA patients, the expression of HLA-DR was increased in the crypt epithelial cells and in the epithelial basement membrane of the ileum when compared with the controls. Positive HLA-DR staining in the ileal mucosa was associated with the presence of high clinical disease activity of JIA and low mRNA expression of anti-inflammatory mediators, such as forkhead box protein P3 (FoxP3), glucocorticoid-induced tumour necrosis factor receptor-related protein (GITR) and transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta. Low ileal expression of interleukin (IL)-10, TGF-β, FoxP3, Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR-2) and TLR-4 transcripts correlated significantly with a high clinical disease activity in the JIA patients. The increased HLA-DR expression suggests enhanced intestinal antigen presentation in JIA. A correlation between clinical disease activity and low gene expression of tolerogenic mediators in the ileum supports the hypothesis that a link exists between the gut immune system and JIA.