The prevention of acute experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) by N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), a potent free radical scavenger, is described. Administrated ad libitum to SJL/J mice at a dosage of 0.2-2 mg/ml in drinking water from the day of the encephalitogenic injection, the agent significantly inhibited the induction of acute EAE. The improvement in clinical condition was dose-dependent. A complete protective effect required administration of the agent at an early stage. Examination of lymphocytes from NAC-treated EAE mice showed that at early stages (days 9 and 15) post encephalitogenic injection the anti-oxidant enhanced the specific lymphocyte proliferative response to the immunizing antigens. Examination of the mitogenic stimulation of lymphocytes from naive animals in the presence of NAC in vitro indicated that the scavenger enhanced the stimulative effect of LPS in a dose-dependent manner. The immunomodulative capacity of the anti-oxidant NAC suggests that free radicals are involved in the pathogenesis of acute EAE.