Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory demyelinating neurological disease in which autoreactive T lymphocytes sensitized to myelin components of the central nervous system are postulated to contribute to pathogenesis. The possible relevance of molecular mimicry between a human coronavirus and the myelin basic protein component of myelin in the generation of this autoimmune reaction was evaluated. Myelin basic protein- and virus-reactive T-cell lines were established from 16 MS patients and 14 healthy donors and shown to be mostly CD4+. In contrast to healthy donors, several T-cell lines isolated from MS patients showed cross-reactivity between myelin and coronavirus antigens. Overall, 29% of T-cell lines from MS patients (10 donors) but only 1.3% of T-cell lines from normal control subjects (2 donors) showed an HLA-DR-restricted cross-reactive pattern of antigen activation after in vitro selection with either myelin basic protein or human coronavirus strain 229E antigens. Moreover, reciprocal reactivities were only observed in MS patients (4 donors). This establishes molecular mimicry between a common viral pathogen, such as this human coronavirus, and myelin as a possible immunopathological mechanism in MS and is consistent with the possible involvement of more than one infectious pathogen as an environmental trigger of disease.