Lewis rats that are primed with guinea pig spinal cord homogenized in complete Freund's adjuvant (GPSCH-CFA) develop overt symptoms of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE). Treatment with the iron-chelating agent, desferrioxamine B mesylate (DFOM), at various times before the onset of EAE, dramatically suppressed both the severity and duration of disease. When DFOM was administered to rats soon after the development of neurological signs, a rapid recovery occurred, though mild, transient symptoms could be seen approximately 1 wk after withdrawal of the drug. Treatment with DFOM was always accompanied by a diminution of T cell responsiveness on the part of the delayed-type hypersensitivity/helper subset and, on histological examination, an absence of inflammatory cells from lesions. Iron is believed to influence both the migration and function of immune effector cells. It can also act as a catalyst in the formation of free radicals, which are highly toxic agents causing tissue damage in sites of inflammation. The mechanisms underlying the effect of DFOM on the severity of EAE, and the possible implications for treatment of multiple sclerosis are discussed.