Cortical reorganization has been demonstrated in the motor network that mediates performance of a motor task in patients with multiple sclerosis. How this network responds to motor training is not known. This study examined functional MRI (fMRI) activation patterns associated with performance of a motor task, consisting of repetition of directionally specific voluntary thumb movements, before and after motor training in a group of multiple sclerosis patients with mild motor impairment of the right upper extremity. Patients and healthy subjects were scanned in one session before, during and after a 30 min training period. fMRI data obtained during rest, thumb flexion (trained movement) and thumb extension (untrained movement) were analysed using random effects analysis (SPM99). Motor kinematics of training motions and EMG from the resting hand were monitored with an accelerometer and surface EMG electrodes. Kinematics of thumb movements before, during and after training were comparable in the absence of mirror EMG activity in the resting hand. Before training, thumb movements elicited more prominent activation of the contralateral dorsal premotor cortex [PMd, Brodmann area (BA) 6] in multiple sclerosis patients than in controls. After training, unlike the control group, multiple sclerosis patients did not exhibit task-specific reductions in activation in the contralateral primary somatosensory (S1), motor (M1) and adjacent parietal association (BA 40) cortices. These results indicate that patients engage the contralateral PMd more than controls in order to perform directionally specific movements before training. The absence of training-dependent reductions in activation in S1, M1 and BA 40 is consistent with a decreased capacity to optimize recruitment of the motor network with practice.