Apolipoprotein E fulfills fundamental functions in lipid transport and neural tissue repair after injury.(6,8) Its three most common isoforms (E2, E3, and E4) are critical determinants of diverse human diseases, including major cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders.(8,14) Apolipoprotein E4 is associated with an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease(3,5) and poor clinical outcome after head injury or stroke.(11,16) The precise role of apolipoprotein E4 in these conditions remains unknown. To characterize the effects of human apolipoprotein E isoforms in vivo, we analysed transgenic Apoe knockout mice that express apolipoprotein E3 or E4 or both in the brain. Hemizygous and homozygous apolipoprotein E3 mice were protected against age-related and excitotoxin-induced neurodegeneration, whereas apolipoprotein E4 mice were not. Apolipoprotein E3/E4 bigenic mice were as susceptible to neurodegeneration as apolipoprotein E4 singly-transgenic mice. At eight months of age neurodegeneration was more severe in homozygous than in hemizygous apolipoprotein E4 mice consistent with a dose effect. Thus, apolipoprotein E4 is not only less neuroprotective than apolipoprotein E3 but also acts as a dominant negative factor that interferes with the beneficial function of apolipoprotein E3. The inhibition of this apolipoprotein E4 activity may be critical for the prevention and treatment of neurodegeneration in APOE varepsilon4 carriers.