Cerebrospinal fluid samples from a total of 157 subjects consisting of 55 patients with sporadic Alzheimer's disease (AD), 34 normal controls, 23 patients with non-AD dementia, and 45 with other neurological diseases were examined by ELISA of tau, A beta 1-40, and A beta 1-42(43). The AD group had a significantly higher level of tau than the normal control group (P < 0.001), and the diagnostic sensitivity was 31% and specificity was 94%. CSF A beta 1-40 levels did not show any significant differences. Although the level of A beta 1-42(43) was decreased significantly in the AD group compared to the control group (P < 0.005), the overlap of A beta 1-42(43) levels among all groups meant that none of the AD samples exceeded the cut-off value, the mean 2SD of normal control subjects. Reduction of A beta 1-42(43) levels in AD resulted in a significant increase in the ratio of A beta 1-40 to A beta 1-42(43) (A beta ratio) as an improved marker. The diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of A beta ratio were 51% and 82% respectively. The three indexes, using the tau level and A beta ratio (tau or A beta ratio, deviation score and tau x A beta ratio), showed better sensitivity (58%, 67%, 69%) and specificity (82%, 86%, 88%) than previously reported methods. Combination assay for CSF tau, A beta 1-40 and A beta 1-42(43) in CSF is a biological marker of AD and may be useful to biochemically monitor subjects under treatment.