Aggregated and oligomeric amyloid beta-protein (Abeta) is known to exhibit neurotoxicity. However, the action of Abeta monomers on neurons is not fully understood. We have studied aggregation state-dependent actions of Abeta and found an oligomer-specific effect of Abeta on lipid metabolism in neurons (Michikawa et al., 2001). Here, we show a novel function of monomeric Abeta1-40, which is the major species found in physiological fluid, as a natural antioxidant molecule that prevents neuronal death caused by transition metal-induced oxidative damage. Monomeric Abeta1-40, which is demonstrated by SDS-PAGE after treatment with glutaraldehyde, protects neurons cultured in a medium containing 1.5 microm Fe(II) without antioxidant molecules. Metal ion chelators such as EDTA, CDTA (trans-1,2-diaminocyclohexane-N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid), and DTPA (diethylenetriamine-N,N,N',N",N"-penta-acetic acid, an iron-binding protein, transferrin, and antioxidant scavengers such as catalase, glutathione, and vitamin E also inhibit neuronal death under the same conditions. Monomeric Abeta1-40 inhibits neuronal death caused by Cu(II), Fe(II), and Fe(III) but does not protect neurons against H2O2-induced damage. Monomeric Abeta1-40 inhibits the reduction of Fe(III) induced by vitamin C and the generation of superoxides and prevents lipid peroxidation induced by Fe(II). Abeta1-42 remaining as a monomer also exhibits antioxidant and neuroprotective effects. In contrast, oligomeric and aggregated Abeta1-40 and Abeta1-42 lose their neuroprotective activity. These results indicate that monomeric Abeta protects neurons by quenching metal-inducible oxygen radical generation and thereby inhibiting neurotoxicity. Because aggregated Abeta is known to be an oxygen radical generator, our results provide a novel concept that the aggregation-dependent biological effects of Abeta are dualistic, being either an oxygen radical generator or its inhibitor.