Understanding of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, has expanded considerably in recent years. New insights have been provided by not only animal models but also studies of patients, often in conjunction with experimental therapies. It is accepted that autoimmune T cells mediate the early steps of new multiple sclerosis lesions, and although uncertainties remain about the specific targets of autoreactive T cells, several studies indicate myelin antigens. Recent findings obtained with both animal models and patients with multiple sclerosis indicate involvement of a T helper cell with a T(H)-17 phenotype, in contrast to previous data indicating that T helper type 1 cells are critical. Evidence has also been presented for CD8(+) and regulatory T cell populations, although their involvement remains to be established. Despite evidence supporting the idea that autoreactive T cells are involved in disease induction, cells of myeloid lineage, antibodies and complement as well as processes intrinsic to the central nervous system seem to determine the effector stages of tissue damage. Careful analysis of the alterations in immune processes should further advance knowledge of the relationship between the inflammatory component of this disease and the more diffuse degeneration of progressive multiple sclerosis.