T cells were directly cloned from autopsied MS brain plaque tissue and reactivity was measured with the major encephalitogenic neuroantigens, myelin basic protein (MBP), and proteolipid protein (PLP). Control clones were simultaneously derived from the blood. The proportion of T4+ and T8+ T cell clones from the brain tissue differed from that of peripheral blood T cell clones derived at the same time, suggesting that the clones were not derived from the peripheral blood. None of 57 brain-derived T cell clones proliferated to either MBP or PLP, although they responded well to PHA and IL 2. An additional 235 clones derived from the cerebrospinal fluid and 126 clones from the peripheral blood of other subjects with multiple sclerosis also did not proliferate to MBP or PLP. In contrast, five of nine T4+ clones from the CSF of a subject with postinfectious encephalomyelitis exhibited low but clear reactivity to human MBP, supporting the possible role of MBP as the target antigen in this disease. These studies, the first to clone T cells directly from MS plaque tissue, suggest that the lack of consistent T cell reactivity to MBP or PLP in the peripheral blood of MS patients does not appear to be secondary to the sequestration of a large number of these cells in the brain.