beta-Amyloid peptide produces apoptosis in neurons at micromolar concentrations, but the mechanism by which beta-amyloid exerts its toxic effect is unknown. The normal biological function of beta-amyloid is also unknown. We used phage display, co-precipitation, and mass spectrometry to examine the protein-protein interactions of beta-amyloid in normal rabbit brain in order to identify the biochemical receptors for beta-amyloid. beta-Amyloid was found to bind primarily to proteins involved in low density lipoprotein and cholesterol transport and metabolism, including sortilin, endoplasmic reticulum-Golgi intermediate compartment 2 (ERGIC2), ERGIC-53, steroid 5alpha-reductase, and apolipoprotein B. beta-Amyloid also bound to the C-reactive protein precursor, a protein involved in inflammation, and to 14-3-3, a protein that regulates glycogen synthase kinase-3beta, the kinase involved in tau phosphorylation. Of eight synthetic peptides identified as targets of beta-amyloid, three were found to be effective blockers of the toxic effect of beta-amyloid on cultured neuronal cells. These peptides bound to the hydrophobic region (residues 17-21) or to the nearby protein kinase C pseudo-phosphorylation site (residues 26-30) of beta-amyloid, suggesting that these may be the most critical regions for beta-amyloid effector action and for aggregation. Peptides or other small molecules that bind to this region may protect against beta-amyloid toxic effect by competitively blocking its ability to bind beta-amyloid effector proteins such as sortilin and 14-3-3.