Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by formation in brain of neurofibrillary tangles and of amyloid deposits. The major protein component of the former is tau, while the latter are composed of amyloid beta-peptides (A beta), which are derived by proteolytic cleavage of the amyloid beta-protein precursor (APP). Both tau and various secretory APP derivatives including A beta and APPS are present in human cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). To investigate whether clinical signs of AD are paralleled by changes in CSF levels of these proteins, we correlated quantitative measures of dementia severity with CSF concentrations of A beta, of APPS, and of tau. We found that levels of A beta in CSF of AD patients were inversely correlated both to cognitive and to functional measures of dementia severity. In contrast, levels of APPS and of tau did not correlate with dementia severity. Apolipoprotein E (apoE) genotype did not influence CSF levels of A beta, APPS, or tau, which were similar among AD patients with Apo E epsilon 3/3, epsilon 3/4, and epsilon 4/4 alleles. These data indicate that CSF levels of A beta decrease with advancing severity of dementia in AD and suggest that they are independent of a patient's Apo E genotype.