We investigated the role of hippocampal amyloid pathology in spatial learning impairment of a new mouse line carrying mutated human amyloid precursor protein (APP) and presenilin-1 (PS1) transgenes. The APP + PS1 mice were tested in spatial navigation in the water maze and in position discrimination in the T-maze at ages of 3-4 and 11-12 months, before and after the appearance of first amyloid plaques. The APP + PS1 mice were impaired in water maze acquisition and retention only at the age of 11-12 months, but performed equally to controls in the T-maze task at both ages. In the impaired older age group, the levels of total Aβ1-42 in the hippocampus of APP + PS1 mice correlated negatively with the retention score. Here we show for the first time that the age-dependent impairment in memory retention in the traditional water maze of APP + PS1 mice correlates with the amount of total Aβ in hippocampus even at a stage when the amyloid deposits cover less than 1% of the hippocampal volume. © 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).