Multiple sclerosis (MS) is characterized by inflammation within the CNS. This inflammatory response is associated with production of nitric oxide (NO) and NO-related species that nitrosylate thiols. We postulated that MS patients would exhibit an antibody (Ab) response directed against proteins containing S-nitrosocysteine (SNO-cysteine) and showed that anti-NO-cysteine Abs of the IgM isotype are in fact present in the sera of some MS patients (Boullerne et al., 1995). We report here the presence of a seemingly identical Ab response directed against SNO-cysteine in an acute model of MS, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) induced in Lewis rats with the 68-84 peptide of guinea pig myelin basic protein (MBP(68-84)). Serum levels of anti-SNO-cysteine Abs peaked 1 week before the onset of clinical signs and well before the appearance of anti-MBP(68-84) Abs. The anti-SNO-cysteine Ab peak titer correlated with the extent of subsequent CNS demyelination, suggesting a link between Ab level and CNS lesion formation. In relapsing-remitting MS patients, we found elevated anti-SNO-cysteine Ab at times of relapse and normal values in most patients judged to be in remission. Two-thirds of patients with secondary progressive MS had elevated anti-SNO-cysteine Ab levels, including those receiving interferon beta-1b. The data show that a rise in circulating anti-SNO-cysteine Ab levels precedes onset of EAE. Anti-SNO-cysteine Abs are also elevated at times of MS attacks and in progressive disease, suggesting a possible role for these Abs, measurable in blood, as a biological marker for clinical activity.