To learn about the carboxy-terminal extent of amyloid beta-protein (A beta) composition of senile plaques (SPs) in the brain affected with Alzheimer's disease (AD), we employed two end-specific monoclonal antibodies as immunocytochemical probes: one is specific for A beta 40, the carboxyl terminus of A beta 1-40, while the other is specific for A beta 42(43). In the AD cortex, all SPs that were labeled with an authentic antibody were A beta 42(43) positive, while only one-third of which, on the average, were A beta 40 positive. There was a strong correlation between A beta 40 positivity and mature plaques. Two familial AD cortices with the mutation of beta-amyloid protein precursor 717 (beta APP717) (Val to Ile) showed a remarkable predominance of A beta 42(43)-positive, A beta 40-negative plaques. Diffuse plaques, representing the earliest stage of A beta deposition, were exclusively positive for A beta 42(43), but completely negative for A beta 40.