The polymorphism of HLA-DRB1, -DRB3, and -DRB5 genes as well as magnetic resonance images of the brain and spinal cord were studied in 57 Japanese patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). Twenty-three patients clinically displayed selective involvement of the optic nerve and spinal cord and were classified as having Asian-type MS. The other 34 patients had disseminated central nervous system involvement and were classified as having Western-type MS. Patients with Asian-type MS had fewer brain lesions shown by magnetic resonance imaging, but more gadolinium-enhanced spinal cord lesions than did patients with Western-type MS (47% vs 17%). Furthermore, the DR2-associated DRB1*1501 allele and DRB5*0101 allele were associated with Western-type MS (41.2%), but not with either Asian-type MS (0%) or healthy control subjects (14.2%). Heterogeneity in the immunogenetic background and in the magnetic resonance imaging features between the two subtypes of MS thus suggests the presence of two etiologically distinct diseases in Asians.