Monoclonal antibody immunocytochemistry was used to examine spinal cord and muscle in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis for changes that would indicate ongoing or potential immune activity. Increased expression of class I and II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigens was seen in the affected areas of spinal cord. New MHC expression was concentrated in phagocytes, particularly in degenerating white matter in which they were dispersed in the tissue and also packed around blood vessels. MHC antigen was not revealed in motor neurons or skeletal muscle fibers. An anti-pan-T-cell monoclonal revealed small numbers of T cells in degenerating white matter. Similar changes have been seen in other neurodegenerative disorders. They suggest a potential for (secondary) cell-mediated activity in the affected areas rather than an ongoing MHC-restricted T-cell response. Vessel-associated phagocytes may be a source of antigen to peripheral lymphoid tissue, stimulating production of the autoantibodies that have been described.