Background: Amyloid-related degenerative diseases are associated with the accumulation of misfolded proteins as amyloid fibrils in tissue. In Alzheimer disease (AD), amyloid accumulates in several distinct types of insoluble plaque deposits, intracellular A beta and as soluble oligomers and the relationships between these deposits and their pathological significance remains unclear. Conformation dependent antibodies have been reported that specifically recognize distinct assembly states of amyloids, including prefibrillar oligomers and fibrils. Results: We immunized rabbits with a morphologically homogeneous population of A beta 42 fibrils. The resulting immune serum (OC) specifically recognizes fibrils, but not random coil monomer or prefibrillar oligomers, indicating fibrils display a distinct conformation dependent epitope that is absent in prefibrillar oligomers. The fibril epitope is also displayed by fibrils of other types of amyloids, indicating that the epitope is a generic feature of the polypeptide backbone. The fibril specific antibody also recognizes 100,000 x G soluble fibrillar oligomers ranging in size from dimer to greater than 250 kDa on western blots. The fibrillar oligomers recognized by OC are immunologically distinct from prefibrillar oligomers recognized by A11, even though their sizes overlap broadly, indicating that size is not a reliable indicator of oligomer conformation. The immune response to prefibrillar oligomers and fibrils is not sequence specific and antisera of the same specificity are produced in response to immunization with islet amyloid polypeptide prefibrillar oligomer mimics and fibrils. The fibril specific antibodies stain all types of amyloid deposits in human AD brain. Diffuse amyloid deposits stain intensely with anti-fibril antibody although they are thioflavin S negative, suggesting that they are indeed fibrillar in conformation. OC also stains islet amyloid deposits in transgenic mouse models of type II diabetes, demonstrating its generic specificity for amyloid fibrils. Conclusion: Since the fibril specific antibodies are conformation dependent, sequence-independent, and recognize epitopes that are distinct from those present in prefibrillar oligomers, they may have broad utility for detecting and characterizing the accumulation of amyloid fibrils and fibrillar type oligomers in degenerative diseases.