Objective: To assess the potential significance of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) reactivation in disease activity in MS patients. Methods: The prevalence of antibodies against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), HSV-2, EBV, and cytomegalovirus was determined in a group of 108 MS patients and in 163 healthy control subjects. Sera were analyzed using combinations of novel assay systems employing highly purified viral and recombinant antigens. In addition, PCR for the detection of EBV DNA was performed in serial samples. Results: In contrast to the control populations, antibodies against EBV were present in 100% of MS patients. Among the tested human herpesviruses, this high extent of seropositivity was only found for EBV. Primary infection was found exclusively in the control group (3.7%), whereas serologic evidence of EBV reactivation was seen in MS patients (13.9%) as well as control subjects (17.2%). There was no temporal coincidence between EBV reactivation and disease activity in MS patients. However, in 19 patients followed monthly for 1 year, active viral replication as measured by increased immunoglobulin (Ig) M and IgA responses to EBV early antigens (p54 + p138) and positive serum DNA was seen in 72.7% of patients with exacerbations during the study period and in none of the patients with clinically stable disease. Conclusions: The results demonstrate an association between EBV reactivation and disease activity in MS patients over time, and suggest that EBV might play an indirect role in MS as an activator of the underlying disease process.