The beta amyloid peptide which accumulates within the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) is proteolytically derived from a precursor protein (beta PP). We established and characterized four stably transformed human neuroblastoma cell lines which conditionally expressed a partial beta PP fusion protein (amino-17 residues+carboxyl-99 residues; S beta C). Conditional expression of S beta C was achieved using a tetracycline-responsive promoter system. Expression of this fusion protein in one of the cell lines resulted in pronounced cytotoxicity. Addition of n6,O2'-dibutyryl adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate and/or fetal bovine serum to the culture medium of this cell line further elevated the level of S beta C expression and enhanced the associated cytotoxicity. Conditioned medium, acquired from cells expressing S beta C, was not cytotoxic. These findings suggest that modulation of beta PP expression and/or metabolism can have cytotoxic consequences. This is the first report of cytotoxic effects mediated by conditional expression of a beta PP derivative. This immortal cell line provides a unique opportunity to screen for complementary DNAs which suppress this toxicity. Such cDNAs could help elucidate the processes underlying S beta C mediated cytotoxicity which in turn could further our understanding of the pathogenesis of AD and could also provide additional candidate genes for various forms of familial AD.