Multiple sclerosis is a chronic immune-mediated disease of the central nervous system that develops in young adults with a complex genetic predisposition. Similar to other autoimmune disease, HLA-DR and -DQ alleles within the HLA class II region on chromosome 6p21 are by far the strongest risk-conferring genes. Less robust susceptibility effects have been reported for non-MHC related genetic variants. Improvements in the design of epidemiological studies helped to identify consistent environmental risk-associations such as the increased susceptibility for MS in individuals with a history of infectious mononucleosis, a symptomatic primary infection with the human γ-herpesvirus Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Sun exposure and serum vitamin D levels are emerging non-infectious environmental risk factors that may have independent roles. The analysis of environmental effects will likely expand in the next few years and will allow for the generation of testable hypotheses as to how environmental insults interact with genetic factors to jointly determine the susceptibility to MS. Insights gained from these studies might facilitate the development of prevention strategies and more effective treatments for MS.