We recently noted a profound decline in brain sulfatides (ST) in subjects who died with incipient dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. Herein, we measured ST levels in cerebrospinal fluid in cognitively normal elderly and in subjects with mild cognitive impairment due to incipient demenia of the Alzheimer type. There was a significant decrease in cerebrospinal fluid ST and in the ST to phosphatidylinositol ratio in MCI subjects. The ST to phosphatidylinositol ratio accurately differentiated very mildly impaired subjects from controls on an individual basis. The cerebrospinal fluid ST to phosphatidylinositol ratio may be a very useful biomarker for the earliest clinical stage of Alzheimer's disease.