The prevalence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and vascular dementia (VAD) increases with aging of the population. The role of lipoproteins in the pathogenesis of AD is unclear: apoE(2) offers protection and apoE(3) is neutral, while apoE(4) promotes the development of the disease. Recently, several studies have confirmed the role of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of AD and VAD. HDL-associated paraoxonase is one of the antioxidative enzymes that may reduce LDL oxidation. In our study, we investigated the lipid parameters of the sera and the serum paraoxonase activity in patients with AD and VAD. Lipid parameters were determined by an autoanalyzer in 30 AD patients, 40 VAD patients and 40 healthy, age-matched control (C) subjects. Paraoxonase activity was measured spectrophotometrically using paraoxon as the substrate. The phenotypic distribution of paraoxonase was determined by the dual substrate method, using paraoxon and phenylacetate as substrates. In our results, we found that most of the patients with AD had the apoE(4) isoform, consistent with other studies. In the VAD and AD patients we found significantly higher total-cholesterol compared to the control group (C: 4.71 +/- 0.89, VAD: 6.3 +/- 0.8, AD: 6.52 +/- 0.7 mmol/l; p < 0.01) and LDL-cholesterol levels (C: 2.6 +/- 0.6, VAD: 3.96 +/- 0.8, AD: 3.84 +/- 0.6 mmol/l; p < 0.001). The HDL-associated antioxidant, paraoxonase activity did not differ significantly in the patient groups, but compared to the healthy control subjects, paraoxonase activity was significantly lower in both of the patient groups (C: 188 +/- 55 U/l; AD: 131 +/- 37, VAD: 151 +/- 50 l; p < 0.05). Our results suggest that the defect in HDL-associated antioxidant capacity plays a role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.