We have characterized the interaction between apolipoprotein E (apoE) and amyloid β peptide (Aβ) in the soluble fraction of the cerebral cortex of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and control subjects. Western blot analysis with specific antibodies identified in both groups a complex composed of the full- length apoE and Aβ peptides ending at residues 40 and 42. The apoE-Aβ soluble aggregate is less stable in AD brains than in controls, when treated with the anionic detergent SDS. The complex is present in significantly higher quantity in control than in AD brains, whereas in the insoluble fraction an inverse correlation has previously been reported. Moreover, in the AD subjects the Aβ bound to apoE is more sensitive to protease digestion than is the unbound Aβ. Taken together, our results indicate that in normal brains apoE efficiently binds and sequesters Aβ, preventing its aggregation. In AD, the impaired apoE-Aβ binding leads to the critical accumulation of Aβ, facilitating plaque formation.