Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by demyelination, remyelination and loss of functions. Even though its etiology is unknown viral, genetic and environmental factors are considered triggers of the disease. MS shows a heterogeneous clinical course, but most patients exhibit exacerbations and remissions from the onset, eventually leading to secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. Systemic inflammatory events are known to signal into the central nervous system (CNS), and can induce a general response known as sickness behavior. Several research papers have demonstrated that a peripheral stimulus can induce the synthesis of cytokines in the brain. In different neurodegenerative diseases peripheral inflammation generates exacerbation to ongoing damage in the brain. In MS, relapsing and remitting episodes are unpredictable; however, peripheral inflammation may exacerbate these events. Clinical studies revealed an association between infections and relapses, which may lead to the worsening of neurological damage. A similar scenario was described in MS animal models demonstrating that peripheral inflammation recrudesced a central ongoing demyelinating lesion. In this paper, we reviewed the existing data on the inflammatory component of MS, with special attention on the effect of peripheral infections in the etiology and progression of MS and its effect on the relapsing and remitting episodes. We also analyzed data concerning the effect of peripheral inflammatory events in MS experimental animal models. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled ‘Neuroinflammation in neurodegeneration and neurodysfunction’.