Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease resulting in progressive cognitive decline. Amyloid plaque deposits consisting specifically of beta-amyloid peptides that have formed fibrils displaying beta-pleated sheet conformation are associated with activated microglia and astrocytes, are colocalized with C1q and other complement activation products, and appear at the time of cognitive decline in AD. Amyloid precursor protein (APP) transgenic mouse models of AD that lack the ability to activate the classical complement pathway display less neuropathology than do the APPQ+/+ mice, consistent with the hypothesis that complement activation and the resultant inflammation may play a role in the pathogenesis of AD. Further investigation of the presence of complement proteins C3 and C4 in the brain of these mice demonstrate that both C3 and C4 deposition increase with age in APPQ+/+ transgenic mice, as expected with the age-dependent increase in fibrillar beta-amyloid deposition. In addition, while C4 is predominantly localized on the plaques and/or associated with oligodendrocytes in APPQ+/+ mice, little C4 is detected in APPQ-/- brains consistent with a lack of classical complement pathway activation because of the absence of C1q in these mice. In contrast, plaque and cell associated C3 immunoreactivity is seen in both animal models and, surprisingly, is higher in APPQ-/- than in APPQ+/+ mice, providing evidence for alternative pathway activation. The unexpected increase in C3 levels in the APPQ-/- mice coincident with decreased neuropathology provides support for the hypothesis that complement can mediate protective events as well as detrimental events in this disease. Finally, induced expression of C3 in a subset of astrocytes suggests the existence of differential activation states of these cells.