Therapy with interferon-β (IFN-β) has well-established clinical effects in multiple sclerosis (MS), albeit the immunomodulatory mechanisms are not fully understood. We assessed the prevalence and functional capacity of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in healthy donors, and in untreated and IFN-β-treated MS patients, in response to myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG). The proportion of CD45RO+ memory T cells was higher in MS patients than in healthy donors, but returned to normal values upon therapy with IFN-β. While CD45RO+ CD4+ T cells from all three groups responded to MOG in vitro, untreated patients showed augmented proliferative responses compared to healthy individuals and IFN-β treatment reduced this elevated reactivity back to the values observed in healthy donors. Similarly, the response of CD45RO+ CD8+ T cells to MOG was strongest in untreated patients and decreased to normal values upon immunotherapy. Overall, the frequency of peripheral CD45RO+ memory T cells ex vivo correlated with the strength of the cellular in vitro response to MOG in untreated patients but not in healthy donors or IFN-β-treated patients. Compared with healthy individuals, responding CD4+ and CD8+ cells were skewed towards a type 1 cytokine phenotype in untreated patients, but towards a type 2 phenotype under IFN-β therapy. Our data suggest that the beneficial effect of IFN-β in MS might be the result of the suppression or depletion of autoreactive, pro-inflammatory memory T cells in the periphery. Assessment of T-cell subsets and their reactivity to MOG may represent an important diagnostic tool for monitoring successful immunotherapy in MS. © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.