Epidemiological studies of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and animal model data support the hypothesis that viruses initiate the immunopathogenic events leading to demyelination in MS. There have been no reports, however, of consistent detection of viruses in MS central nervous system tissue. We probed MS and control brain with cDNA probes specific for human, murine, porcine, and bovine coronaviruses. We report the in situ hybridization detection of coronavirus RNA in 12 of 22 MS brain samples using cloned coronavirus cDNA probes. In addition, tissue was screened for coronavirus antigen by immunohistochemical methods; antigen was detected in two patients with rapidly progressive MS. Significant amounts of coronavirus antigen and RNA were observed in active demyelinating plaques from these two patients. These findings show that coronaviruses can infect the human central nervous system and raise the possibility that these viruses may contribute to the pathogenesis of MS in some patients.