Forty relapsing multiple sclerosis patients with 1-15 gadolinium (Gd)-enhancing lesions on screening brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) scores 0-6.5 were randomized to receive short-term induction therapy with mitoxantrone (three monthly 12 mg/m(2) infusions) followed by 12 months of daily glatiramer acetate (GA) therapy 20 mg/day subcutaneously for a total of 15 months (M-GA, n = 21) or daily GA 20 mg/day for 15 months (GA, n = 19). MRI scans were performed at months 6, 9, 12 and 15. The primary measure of outcome was the incidence of adverse events; secondary measures included number of Gd-enhanced lesions, confirmed relapses and EDSS changes. Except age, baseline demographic characteristics were well matched in both treatment arms. Both treatments were safe and well tolerated. M-GA induction produced an 89% greater reduction (relative risk (RR) = 0.11, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.04-0.36, p = 0.0001) in the number of Gd-enhancing lesions at months 6 and 9 and a 70% reduction (RR = 0.30, 95% CI: 0.11-0.86, p = 0.0147) at months 12 and 15 versus GA alone. Mean relapse rates were 0.16 and 0.32 in the M-GA and GA groups, respectively. Short-term immunosuppression with mitoxantrone followed by daily GA for up to 15 months was found to be safe and effective, with an early and sustained decrease in MRI disease activity.