Genetic evidence strongly supports the view that Abeta amyloid production is central to the cause of Alzheimer's disease. The kinetics, compartmentation, and form of Abeta and its temporal relation to the neurodegenerative process remain uncertain. The levels of soluble and insoluble Abeta were determined by using western blot techniques, and the findings were assessed in relation to indices of severity of disease. The mean level of soluble Abeta is increased threefold in Alzheimer's disease and correlates highly with markers of disease severity. In contrast, the level of insoluble Abeta (also a measure of total amyloid load) is found only to discriminate Alzheimer's disease from controls, and does not correlate with disease severity or numbers of amyloid plaques. These findings support the concept of several interacting pools of Abeta, that is, a large relatively static insoluble pool that is derived from a constantly turning over smaller soluble pool. The latter may exist in both intracellular and extracellular compartments, and contain the basic forms of Abeta that cause neurodegeneration. Reducing the levels of these soluble Abeta species by threefold to levels found in normal controls might prove to be a goal of future therapeutic intervention.