Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) measures of dynorphin A were compared in three groups. Alzheimer patients (n = 9), elderly depressives (n = 9), and age-matched normal controls (n = 9). The Alzheimer patients revealed a 40% decrease in CSF dynorphin compared with controls (36 +/- 15 versus 60 +/- 21 pg/ml, p less than 0.05). In contrast, other peptide measures [Neuropeptide Y (NPY), vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), and galanin] remained unchanged across groups. This finding was further supported when an additional 20 Alzheimer patients with similar clinical backgrounds also showed reduced CSF dynorphin (37 +/- 13 pg/ml). CSF dynorphin did not correlate significantly with clinical variables or other CSF measures of monoamine metabolites [i.e., 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG), 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), and homovanillic acid (HVA)]. Given the previous report of increased kappa binding of Alzheimer brains at autopsy, the authors speculate about a possible up-regulation of opiate receptors in Alzheimer's disease and suggest ways to test this hypothesis in vivo.