Although spontaneous remyelination does occur in multiple sclerosis lesions, its extent within the global population with this disease is presently unknown. We have systematically analysed the incidence and distribution of completely remyelinated lesions (so-called shadow plaques) or partially remyelinated lesions (shadow plaque areas) in 51 autopsies of patients with different clinical courses and disease durations. The extent of remyelination was variable between cases. In 20% of the patients, the extent of remyelination was extensive with 60-96% of the global lesion area remyelinated. Extensive remyelination was found not only in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis, but also in a subset of patients with progressive disease. Older age at death and longer disease duration were associated with significantly more remyelinated lesions or lesion areas. No correlation was found between the extent of remyelination and either gender or age at disease onset. These results suggest that the variable and patient-dependent extent of remyelination must be considered in the design of future clinical trials aimed at promoting CNS repair.