Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a devastating dementia of late life that is correlated with a region-specific neuronal cell loss. Despite progress in uncovering many of the factors that contribute to the etiology of the disease, the cause of the nerve cell death remains unknown. One promising theory is that the neurons degenerate because they reenter a lethal cell cycle. This theory receives support from immunocytochemical evidence for the reexpression of several cell cycle-related proteins. Direct proof for DNA replication, however, has been lacking. We report here the use of fluorescent in situ hybridization to examine the chromosomal complement of interphase neuronal nuclei in the adult human brain. We demonstrate that a significant fraction of the hippocampal pyramidal and basal forebrain neurons in AD have fully or partially replicated four separate genetic loci on three different chromosomes. Cells in unaffected regions of the AD brain or in the hippocampus of nondemented age-matched controls show no such anomalies. We conclude that the AD neurons complete a nearly full S phase, but because mitosis is not initiated, the cells remain tetraploid. Quantitative analysis indicates that the genetic imbalance persists for many months before the cells die, and we propose that this imbalance is the direct cause of the neuronal loss in Alzheimer's disease.