Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) is a valuable model for studying immunopathology in multiple sclerosis (MS) and for exploring the interface between autoimmune responses and CNS tissue that ultimately leads to lesion development. In this study, we measured gene expression in mouse spinal cord during myelin oligodendrocyte gp35-55 peptide-induced EAE, using quantitative RT-PCR, to identify gene markers that monitor individual hallmark pathological processes. We defined a small panel of genes whose longitudinal expression patterns provided insight into the timing, interrelationships, and mechanisms of individual disease processes and the efficacy of therapeutics for the treatment of MS. Earliest transcriptional changes were upregulation of Il17a and sharp downregulation of neuronal and oligodendrocyte marker genes preceding clinical disease onset, whereas neuroinflammatory markers progressively increased as symptoms and tissue lesions developed. EAE-induced gene-expression changes were not altered in mice deficient in IKKβ in cells of the myeloid lineage compared with controls, but the administration of a selective inhibitor of soluble TNF to mice from the day of immunization delayed changes in the expression of innate inflammation, myelin, and neuron markers from the presymptomatic phase. Proof of principle that the gene panel shows drug screening potential was obtained using a well-established MS therapeutic, glatiramer acetate. Prophylactic treatment of mice with glatiramer acetate normalized gene marker expression, and this correlated with the level of therapeutic success. These results show that neurons and oligodendrocytes are highly sensitive to CNS-directed autoimmunity before the development of clinical symptoms and immunopathology and reveal a role for soluble TNF in mediating the earliest changes in gene expression.