Alzheimer's disease, responsible for the vast majority of dementia cases in the elderly population, is caused by accumulation of toxic levels of amyloid beta peptide (A beta) in the brain. Neprilysin is a major enzyme responsible for the degradation of A beta in vivo. We have previously shown that elevation of neprilysin levels in the brain delays the deposition of A beta-plaques in a mouse model of amyloidosis and that lack of neprilysin leads to increased A beta generation and to signs of incipient neurodegeneration in mouse brains. This study was designed to test whether low brain levels of neprilysin affect the amyloid pathology or perturb the learning and memory performance of mice. Double-mutated mice carrying a targeted depletion of one allele of Mme, the gene encoding neprilysin, and over-expressing human amyloid precursor protein (APP), exhibited a reinforced amyloid pathology in comparison with their APP transgenic littermates. Moreover, in contrast to their parental lines, these mice were impaired in the Morris water maze learning and memory paradigm and showed facilitated extinction in the conditioned taste aversion test. These data suggest that even a partial neprilysin deficiency, as is found during aging, exacerbates amyloid pathology and may impair cognitive functions.