A double mutation in the alpha-secretase site in the betaA4 region of mouse amyloid precursor protein (APP) reduced its secretion from COS cells, polarized MDCK cells and rat primary neurons. Expression of this mutant in the brain of mice, using the neuron-specific elements of the mouse Thy-1 gene promoter, resulted in transgenic mice that became progressively hyperactive, displayed seizures and died prematurely. In three different transgenic lines the severity of the phenotype was related directly to the expression levels of the transgene, estimated by both mRNA and protein levels. In addition, homozygous mice derived from each transgenic strain showed more severe symptoms which also occurred earlier in life than in heterozygotes. The observed symptoms were, however, not essentially different in the different lines. Increased aggressiveness, disturbed responses to kainic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate, neophobia and deficiency in exploratory behavior were demonstrated in these mice. In the brain, the observed neuropathological changes included necrosis, apoptosis and astrogliosis in the hippocampus, cortex and other areas. The data demonstrate that incomplete or incorrect alpha-secretase processing of APP results in severe neurotoxicity and that this effect is expressed in a dominant manner.