Dysregulation of blood-brain barrier (BBB) function and transendothelial migration of leukocytes are essential components of the development and propagation of active lesions in multiple sclerosis (MS). Animal studies indicate that polarized expression of the chemokine CXCL12 at the BBB prevents leukocyte extravasation into the central nervous system (CNS) and that disruption of CXCL12 polarity promotes entry of autoreactive leukocytes and inflammation. In the present study, we examined expression of CXCL12 and its receptor, CXCR4, within CNS tissues from MS and non-MS patients. Immunohistochemical analysis of CXCL12 expression at the BBB revealed basolateral localization in tissues derived from non-MS patients and at uninvolved sites in tissues from MS patients. In contrast, within active MS lesions, CXCL12 expression was redistributed toward vessel lumena and was associated with CXCR4 activation in infiltrating leukocytes, as revealed by phospho-CXCR4-specific antibodies. Quantitative assessment of CXCL12 expression by the CNS microvasculature established a positive correlation between CXCL12 redistribution, leukocyte infiltration, and severity of histological disease. These results suggest that CXCL12 normally functions to localize infiltrating leukocytes to perivascular spaces, preventing CNS parenchymal infiltration. In the patient cohort studied, altered patterns of CXCL12 expression at the BBB were specifically associated with MS, possibly facilitating trafficking of CXCR4-expressing mononuclear cells into and out of the perivascular space and leading to progression of disease.