Clones for the amyloid beta protein precursor gene were isolated from a cDNA library prepared from the frontal cortex of a patient who had died with a histologically confirmed diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease; they were used to investigate the tissue and cellular distribution of amyloid beta protein precursor mRNA in brain tissues from control patients and from Alzheimer's disease patients. Amyloid beta protein precursor mRNA was expressed in similar amounts in all control human brain regions examined, but a reduction of the mRNA level was observed in the frontal cortex from patients with Alzheimer's disease. By in situ hybridization amyloid beta protein precursor mRNA was present in granule and pyramidal cell bodies in the hippocampal formation and in pyramidal cell bodies in the cerebral cortex. No specific labelling of glial cells or endothelial cells was found. The same qualitative distribution was observed in tissues from control patients and from patients with Alzheimer's disease. Senile plaque amyloid thus probably derives from neurones. The tissue distribution of amyloid beta protein precursor mRNA and its cellular localization demonstrate that its expression is not confined to the brain regions and cells that exhibit the selective neuronal death characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.