Peripheral blood T lymphocytes from patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological diseases (OND) were tested for primary in vitro proliferation in response to four synthetic peptides derived from the sequence of human myelin basic protein (HuMBP) and to HuMBP 45-89 peptide fragment, using a [3H]thymidine incorporation assay. The synthetic peptides used corresponded to residues HuMBP 15-31, 75-96, 83-96 and 131-141 of human myelin basic protein. Significant proliferation of T lymphocytes to peptides was noted only in the MS group (with the exception of peptide 131-141): the majority of control subjects and OND patients did not respond to the above-mentioned peptides. The sensitized T lymphocytes in MS patients displayed the inducer/helper phenotype and required autologous monocytes for optimal proliferation. An anti-HLA-DR monoclonal antibody, directed against a monomorphic determinant of DR molecules, was able to block the responses in a dose-dependent fashion. These results suggest that autoimmune inducer/helper T lymphocytes in the peripheral blood of MS patients may initiate and/or regulate the demyelination process in patients with MS. Furthermore, our data demonstrate that monocytes and HLA-DR molecules are essential for activation of these cells. Finally primary in vitro T cell proliferation to HuMBP synthetic peptide may be used as an additional diagnostic test in MS.