Although multiple sclerosis (MS) patients and healthy individuals have similar frequencies of myelin basic protein (MBP)-specific T cells, the activation state of these cells has not been well characterized. Therefore, we investigated the dependence of MBP-reactive T cells on CD28-mediated costimulation in MS patients, healthy controls, and stroke patients. MBP-reactive T cells from healthy controls and stroke patients failed to proliferate efficiently when costimulation was blocked using anti-CD28, consistent with a naive T cell response. In contrast, MBP-specific T cell proliferation was not inhibited, or was only partially inhibited when CD28-mediated costimulation was blocked in MS patients. Blockade of CD28 failed to inhibit tetanus toxoid-specific T cell proliferation in both the controls and MS patients, demonstrating that memory cells are not dependent on CD28-mediated costimulation. Limiting dilution analysis indicated that the frequency of MBP-reactive T cells was significantly decreased in healthy controls compared with MS patients when CD28-mediated costimulation was blocked. These data suggest that MBP-reactive T cells are more likely to have been activated in vivo and/or differentiated into memory T cells in MS patients compared with controls, indicating that these cells may be participating in the pathogenesis of MS.