Introduction Interleukin (IL)-23 is essential for the development of various experimental autoimmune models. However, the role of IL-23 in non-autoimmune experimental arthritis remains unclear. Here, we examined the role of IL-23 in the non-autoimmune antigen-induced arthritis (AIA) model. In addition, the regulatory potential of IL-23 in IL-17A and retinoic acid-related orphan receptor gamma t (ROR gamma t) expression in CD4(+) and TCR gamma delta(+) T cells was evaluated systemically as well as at the site of inflammation. Methods Antigen-induced arthritis was induced in wild-type, IL-23p19-deficient and IL-17 Receptor A - knockout mice. At different time points, synovial cytokine and chemokine expression was measured. At days 1 and 7 of AIA, splenocytes and joint-infiltrating cells were isolated and analyzed for intracellular IL-17A and interferon (IFN)-gamma ex-vivo by flow cytometry. In splenic CD4(+) and TCR gamma delta(+) T cells gene expression was quantified by flow cytometry and quantitative PCR. Results IL-23 was critical for full-blown AIA. Lack of IL-23 did not prevent the onset of joint inflammation but stopped the progression to a destructive synovitis. IL-23 regulated IL-17A expression in CD4(+) T cells in the spleen. Of note, IL-17A and IFN-gamma expression was reduced in CD4(+) T cells in the inflamed joints of IL-23p19-deficient mice. Interestingly, IL-23 was also critical for the induction of IL-17A and ROR gamma t but not IFN-gamma in TCR gamma delta(+) T cells in the inflamed joints. The importance of the IL-23/IL-17 axis was further confirmed using IL-17 Receptor A knockout mice showing significantly milder AIA compared to control mice, with a disease course comparable to that of IL-23p19-deficient mice. Conclusions These data show that IL-23 is critical for full-blown expression of a non-autoimmune destructive arthritis and regulates the proportion of IL-17A and IFN-gamma-positive CD4(+) T cells at the site of inflammation. Furthermore, IL-23 regulates IL-17A and ROR gamma t expression in TCR gamma delta(+) T cells in arthritis. These findings indicate that regulating the IL-23 pathway may have therapeutic potential in non-autoimmune arthritis.