The neuropathologic hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease (AD) are extracellular plaques and intracellular neurofibrillary tangles. A constituent of senile plaques in AD is beta-amyloid, a hydrophobic peptide of 39-43 amino acids and a fragment of the amyloid precursor protein (APP). APP can be metabolized by at least two pathways, one of which involves generation of soluble APP by an unidentified enzyme named alpha-secretase. This cleavage generates alpha-secretase-cleaved, soluble APP (alpha-sAPP), which in this investigation was measured by a new assay in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from members of a Swedish AD family with a pathogenic mutation at APP670/671 (ref. 2). Family members who carry the mutation and are diagnosed with AD had low levels of alpha-sAPP (160 +/- 48 ng ml-1), with no overlap compared with non-carriers (257 +/- 48 ng ml-1). Carriers of the presymptomatic mutation showed intermediate alpha-sAPP levels. Today there exists no antemortem marker in AD with sufficient sensitivity and specificity, but measurement of alpha-sAPP represents a new and promising diagnostic marker.