Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the CNS that leads to substantial disability in most patients. The early phase is characterised by relapses and the later phase by progressive disability. Results from immunological, genetic, and histopathological studies and treatment trials have shown that the immune system plays a key part in the disease course. Findings from animal models and immunological studies of patients with multiple sclerosis suggest a change in the involvement of the immune system during disease initiation and progression. These findings suggest that a peripheral immune response targeting the CNS drives the disease process during the early phase, whereas immune reactions within the CNS dominate the progressive phase. These concepts for the differential involvement of immune responses in the early and progressive phase of this disease have important implications for future research in the pathogenesis and treatment of multiple sclerosis.