Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biochemical markers for Alzheimer disease (AD) would be of great value to improve the clinical diagnostic accuracy of the disorder. As abnormally phosphorylated forms of the microtubule-associated protein tau have been consistently found in the brains of AD patients, and since tau can be detected in CSF, two assays based on several well-defined monoclonal tau antibodies were used to study these proteins in CSF. One assay detects most normal and abnormal forms of tau (CSF-tau), while the other is highly specific for phosphorylated tau (CSF-PHFtau). A marked increase in CSF-PHFtau was found in AD (2230 +/- 930 pg/mL), as compared with controls (640 +/- 230 pg/mL; p < 0.0001), vascular dementia, VAD (1610 +/- 840 pg/mL; p < 0.05), frontal lobe dementia, FLD (1530 +/- 1000 pg/mL; p < 0.05), Parkinson disease, PD (720 +/- 590 pg/mL; p < 0.0001), and patients with major depression (230 +/- 130 pg/mL; p < 0.0001). Parallel results were obtained for CSF-tau. No less than 35/40 (88%) of AD patients had a CSF-PHFtau value higher than the cutoff level of 1140 pg/mL in controls. The present study demonstrates that elevated tau/PHFtau levels are consistently found in CSF of AD patients. However, a considerable overlap is still present with other forms of dementia, both VAD and FLD. CSF-tau and CSF-PHFtau may therefore be useful as a positive biochemical marker, to discriminate AD from normal aging, PD, and depressive pseudodementia. Further studies are needed to clarify the sensitivity and specificity of these assays, including follow-up studies with neuropathological examinations.