Abstract Background Active and passive immunotherapy in both amyloid-beta precursor protein (APP) transgenic mice and Alzheimer's Disease (AD) patients have resulted in remarkable reductions in amyloid plaque accumulation, although the degree of amyloid regression has been highly variable. Nine individuals with a clinical diagnosis of AD dementia were actively immunized with the Aβ peptide 1-42 (AN-1792) and subjected to detailed postmortem biochemical analyses. These patients were compared to 6 non-immunized AD cases and 5 non-demented control (NDC) cases. Results All patients were assessed for the presence of AD pathology including amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles and vascular amyloidosis. This effort revealed that two immunotherapy recipients had dementia as a consequence of diseases other than AD. Direct neuropathological examination consistently demonstrated small to extensive areas in which amyloid plaques apparently were disrupted. Characterization of Aβ species remnants by ELISA suggested that total Aβ levels may have been reduced, although because the amounts of Aβ peptides among treated individuals were extremely variable, those data must be regarded as tentative. Chromatographic analysis and Western blots revealed abundant dimeric Aβ peptides. SELDI-TOF mass spectrometry demonstrated a substantive number of Aβ-related peptides, some of them with elongated C-terminal sequences. Pro-inflammatory TNF-α levels were significantly increased in the gray matter of immunized AD cases compared to the NDC and non-immunized AD groups. Conclusions Immunotherapy responses were characterized by extreme variability. Considering the broad range of biological variation that characterizes aging and complicates the recognition of reliable AD biomarkers, such disparities will make the interpretation of outcomes derived from epidemiologic and therapeutic investigations challenging. Although in some cases the apparent removal of amyloid plaques by AN-1792 was impressive, proportionate alterations in the clinical progression of AD were not evident. The fact that plaque elimination did not alter the trajectory of decline into dementia suggests the likelihood that these deposits alone are not the underlying cause of dementia.