The exact mechanisms leading to CNS inflammation and myelin destruction in multiple sclerosis and in its animal model, experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) remain equivocal. In both multiple sclerosis and EAE, complement activation is thought to play a pivotal role by recruiting inflammatory cells, increasing myelin phagocytosis by macrophages, and exerting direct cytotoxic effects through the deposition of the membrane attack complex on oligodendrocytes. Despite this assumption, attempts to evaluate complement's contribution to autoimmune demyelination in vivo have been limited by the lack of nontoxic and/or nonimmunogenic complement inhibitors. In this report, we used mice deficient in either C3 or factor B to clarify the role of the complement system in an Ab-independent model of EAE. Both types of complement-deficient mice presented with a markedly reduced disease severity. Although induction of EAE led to inflammatory changes in the meninges and perivascular spaces of both wild-type and complement-deficient animals, in both C3(-/-) and factor B(-/-) mice there was little infiltration of the parenchyma by macrophages and T cells. In addition, compared with their wild-type littermates, the CNS of both C3(-/-) and factor B(-/-) mice induced for EAE are protected from demyelination. These results suggest that complement might be a target for the therapeutic treatment of inflammatory demyelinating diseases of the CNS.