Microtubule-associated protein tau in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) has been proposed as a diagnostic marker for Alzheimer's disease (AD), but there is overlap between AD patients and non-AD controls. To improve the diagnostic accuracy, we measured phosphorylated tau in CSF, because phosphorylated tau accumulates as pathological paired helical filaments in neurons of the AD brain. Immunoblot showed that CSF contained a 32 kDa N-terminal fragment of tau that was partially phosphorylated on Ser199, Thr231 and Ser235. A sandwich enzyme immunoassay revealed that phosphorylated CSF-tau levels were significantly higher in AD patients than those in non-AD controls. Discrimination between the two groups was clearer in phosphorylated CSF-tau than in total CSF-tau. The data indicate that elevated phosphorylated CSF-tau level is a more specific diagnostic marker for AD.