Cleavage of the cyclin-dependent kinase 5 activator p35 generates the protein fragment p25, which accumulates in the forebrain of patients with Alzheimer's disease. Although p25 expression has been suggested to affect learning and memory, this hypothesis has not been tested to date. To investigate the role of p25 in hippocampus-dependent learning and memory we have generated transgenic mice expressing p25 preferentially in postnatal forebrain. p25 expression was highest in hippocampus where it averaged approximately 33% of endogenous p35 expression. This low level of p25 expression did not seem to result in hyperphosphorylation of tau, but increased the phosphorylation of neurofilament M and enhanced the expression of tau protein. These molecular changes did not correlate with neurodegeneration or motor abnormalities. In the Morris water maze the p25 mutants were normal in learning an initial platform location, but surprisingly reversal learning was improved when the platform position was changed. The p25 mutants were normal in contextual fear conditioning. However, when trained with a tone presentation the mutants showed reduced contextual conditioning and enhanced tone fear conditioning. We conclude that low p25 expression has pleiotropic effects on learning and memory. As p25 expression can improve learning and memory, p25 formation could be a compensatory mechanism for learning and memory deficits in Alzheimer's disease.