Postmortem AD brains exhibit dendritic spine loss in the hippocampus. To determine whether this pathology may be associated with amyloid burden, the present study used the Golgi stain technique to assess age- and genotype-dependent changes in dendritic spine density in CA1 hippocampus of two transgenic mouse lines that produce high levels of Abeta. Tg2576 and PDAPP mice, as well as a group of Tg2576 mice crossed with human apoE2-expressing transgenic mice, were compared to respective transgene-negative controls. Since the time course of amyloid plaque deposition in the PDAPP and Tg2576 mice is well characterized, we examined changes in spine density at ages that corresponded to different levels of amyloid plaque load. The data show age- and genotype-dependent reductions in spine density in both Tg2576 and PDAPP mice, albeit at somewhat different time courses. The spine loss occurred prior to plaque deposition and was ameliorated by the overexpression of human apoE2. These results suggest that a soluble Abeta species may affect hippocampal synapses and thereby contribute to functional deficits evident in these animals.