Experimental thiamine deficiency (TD) is a classical model of a nutritional deficit associated with a generalized impairment of oxidative metabolism and selective cell loss in the brain. In rats, TD-induced cell degeneration is accompanied by an accumulation of amyloid precursor protein (APP)/amyloid precursor-like protein 2 (APLP2) immunoreactivity in abnormal neurites and perikarya along the periphery of, or scattered within, the lesion. Prompted by these data and our previous findings of a genetic variation in the development of TD symptoms, we extended our studies to mice. C57BL/6, ApoE knockout, and APP YAC transgenic mice received thiamine-deficient diet and pyrithiamine injections. Unlike rats, APP/APLP2-immunoreactive neurites in all strains of mice were sparsely scattered within damaged areas and did not delimit the thalamic lesion. In addition, abnormal clusters of intensely immunoreactive neurites occurred only in areas of damage including the thalamus, mammillary body, and inferior colliculus. The clusters appeared as either irregular clumps or round or oval rosettes that strikingly resembled the neuritic component of Alzheimer amyloid plaques. However, immunostaining using various antisera to synthetic amyloid beta-protein (A beta 1-40) and thioflavine S histochemistry failed to show evidence of a component of A beta Neither APP/APLP2-immunoreactive clusters nor amyloid plaques were observed in the brain from patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, the clinical manifestation of TD in man. Our results demonstrate species (i.e., genetic) differences in the response to TD-induced damage and support a role for APP and APLP2 in the response to brain injury. This is the first report that chronic oxidative deficits can lead to this novel pathology.