Proton nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy was used to examine cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from patients (n = 30) with actively progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). Metabolite concentrations obtained from the spectra were compared to those determined from the spectra of CSF from control patients (n = 27) with benign spinal disorders. No significant difference was found between the 2 groups for most constituents, including lactate, glutamine, citrate, creatine and creatinine, and glucose. Acetate levels were significantly higher in MS patients, while formate levels were significantly lower, than the controls. There were no significant differences in metabolite concentrations in CSF from early and longstanding MS patients. A peak due to an unidentified compound was found at 2.82 ppm in the spectra of CSF from patients with actively progressive MS, but not in the spectra of CSF from the controls. The peak was not found in spectra of CSF from patients with AIDS dementia complex (n = 9) or Parkinson's disease (n = 5), but it did appear in spectra of CSF from 1 patient with Jakob-Creutzfeldt disease (out of 3 examined) and from 1 patient (out of 7) with Guillan-Barré disease. The unidentified compound is volatile and, from the chemical shift of the observed NMR peak, is probably an N-methyl compound. As such, it may be an intermediate in the cholino-glycine cycle, in which an abnormality has been proposed to exist in MS patients.