OBJECTIVE: Interferon-beta (IFN-beta) is a widely used therapy for multiple sclerosis (MS), a demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. This study has evaluated the effect on thyroid function and autoimmunity of a 1-year treatment with IFN-beta1b in patients with MS. PATIENTS: We studied 31 patients (age 34+/-7 years, 21 women) with relapsing-remitting MS during IFN-beta1b treatment of 1 year duration. Systematic thyroid assessment and measurements of serum interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels were performed at baseline and every 3 months during treatment. RESULTS: Sixteen percent of the patients had autoimmune thyroiditis before IFN-beta1b, all positive for anti-peroxidase antibodies. The overall incidence of thyroid dysfunction was 33% over 1 year (10% hyperthyroidism, 23% hypothyroidism). Thyroid autoimmunity developed in 5/26 patients (19%), in one case without dysfunction. In addition to autoantibody positivity at baseline, female gender and the presence of an ultrasound thyroid pattern suggestive of thyroiditis were identified by multiple logistic regression as additional risk predictors for the development of thyroid dysfunction. During IFN-beta1b treatment, serum IL-6 levels rose in a consistent biphasic pattern; there was, however, no difference between patients with or without incident thyroid abnormalities. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that IFN-beta1b therapy can induce multiple alterations in thyroid function, some of which are unrelated to thyroid autoimmunity. IL-6 measurement is not useful to identify patients prone to develop thyroid abnormalities. Though thyroid dysfunction is generally subclinical and often transient, systematic thyroid assessment should be performed during IFN-beta1b treatment.