Central nervous system tissue from multiple sclerosis and non-multiple sclerosis subjects was studied for the expression of exon 2 myelin basic protein gene products at the protein and message levels by immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization, respectively. The exon 2-encoded protein sequence is normally expressed during development (myelination) within the 21 · 5- and 20 · 2-kd isoforms of myelin basic protein and is downregulated in the adult central nervous system where the 18 · 5- and 17 · 2-kd isoforms predominate, the latter devoid of exon 2 owing to alternative splicing. Exon 2 myelin basic protein gene products were readily demonstrable in multiple sclerosis samples, the highest levels correlating with remyelination in chronic lesions while normal adult central nervous system and non-multiple sclerosis material showed very low levels and fetal human central nervous system tissue (a positive control) showed high levels. We conclude that recapitulation of ontogenetic events during myelin repair accounts for the increased expression of the exon 2-encoded protein sequence in the adult central nervous system during multiple sclerosis, an event that might underly the previously observed T-cell activation to this protein sequence during relapses.