The purpose of this investigation was to use molecular and immunological techniques to determine whether oral Treponema infected the human brain. Pieces of frontal lobe cortex from 34 subjects were analyzed with species-specific PCR and monoclonal antibodies. PCR detected Treponema in 14/16 Alzheimer's disease (AD) and 4/18 non-AD donors (P < 0.001), and AD specimens had more Treponema species than controls (P < 0.001). PCR also detected Treponema in trigeminal ganglia from three AD and two control donors. Cortex from 15/16 AD subjects and 6/18 controls contained Treponema pectinovorum and/or Treponema socranskii species-specific antigens (P < 0.01). T. pectinovorum and/or T. socranskii antigens were also found in trigeminal ganglia and pons from four embalmed cadavers, and 2/4 cadavers also had Treponema in the hippocampus. These findings suggest that oral Treponema may infect the brain via branches of the trigeminal nerve.