To study the putative precursor proteins (PreA4(695), PreA4(751), and PreA4(770] of Alzheimer's disease A4 amyloid protein, polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies were raised against a recombinant bacterial PreA4(695) fusion protein. These antibodies were used to identify the precursors in different cell lines as well as in human brain homogenates and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The precursors are tyrosine-sulfated, O- and N-glycosylated membrane proteins and have half-lives of 20-30 min in cells. Cells express the polypeptides at their surface but also secrete C-terminal truncated proteins into the medium. These proteins are also found in CSF of both Alzheimer's disease patients and normal individuals. The proteins are derived from their cognate membrane-associated forms by proteolysis and have apparently lost the cytoplasmic and the transmembrane domains. Since the latter contributes to the A4 amyloid sequence, it seems possible that this proteolytic cleavage represents the first step in the formation of A4 amyloid deposits.