Vascular dysfunction is emerging as a key pathological hallmark in Alzheimer's disease (AD). A leaky blood-brain barrier (BBB) has been described in AD patient tissue and in vivo AD mouse models. Brain endothelial cells (BECs) are linked together by tight junctional (TJ) proteins, which are a key determinant in restricting the permeability of the BBB. The amyloid beta (Abeta) peptides of 1-40 and 1-42 amino acids are believed to be pivotal in AD pathogenesis. We therefore decided to investigate the effect of Abeta 1-40, the Abeta variant found at the highest concentration in human plasma, on the permeability of an immortalized human BEC line, hCMEC/D3. Abeta 1-40 induced a marked increase in hCMEC/D3 cell permeability to the paracellular tracer 70 kD FITC-dextran when compared with cells incubated with the scrambled Abeta 1-40 peptide. Increased permeability was associated with a specific decrease, both at the protein and mRNA level, in the TJ protein occludin, whereas claudin-5 and ZO-1 were unaffected. JNK and p38MAPK inhibition prevented both Abeta 1-40-mediated down-regulation of occludin and the increase in paracellular permeability in hCMEC/D3 cells. Our findings suggest that the JNK and p38MAPK pathways might represent attractive therapeutic targets for preventing BBB dysfunction in AD.