The concentration of tau protein in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was determined in 40 patients with clinically diagnosed probable Alzheimer disease (AD) and in 36 cognitively healthy controls. A significant increase of CSF tau was found in the AD patients, even in 19 subjects with very mild dementia as defined by a Mini-Mental State Examination score of 25 and above. Using a cutoff value of 260 pg/mL the sensitivity of elevated tau was 0.89, the specificity was 0.97, and the proportion of correctly allocated cases was 95%. In the AD groups there were no significant associations between CSF tau level and age, age at onset, duration of illness, apolipoprotein E genotype, severity of cognitive impairment, or deficit in regional cerebral blood flow as measured using 99Tm-ethyl cystein dimer single photon emission computed tomography. The findings demonstrate that CSF tau is significantly increased at the earliest clinical stage of AD and shows only minimal overlap with age-matched cognitively healthy controls. This finding suggests that CSF tau could be a biological marker of AD even before dementia has developed.