To identify novel risk genes and better understand the molecular pathway underlying Alzheimer's disease (AD), whole-exome sequencing was performed in 215 early-onset AD (EOAD) patients and 255 unrelated healthy controls of Han Chinese ethnicity. Subsequent validation, computational annotation and in vitro functional studies were performed to evaluate the role of candidate variants in EOAD. We identified two rare missense variants in the phosphodiesterase 11A (PDE11A) gene in individuals with EOAD. Both variants are located in evolutionarily highly conserved amino acids, are predicted to alter the protein conformation and are classified as pathogenic. Furthermore, we found significantly decreased protein levels of PDE11A in brain samples of AD patients. Expression of PDE11A variants and knockdown experiments with specific short hairpin RNA (shRNA) for PDE11A both resulted in an increase of AD-associated Tau hyperphosphorylation at multiple epitopes in vitro. PDE11A variants or PDE11A shRNA also caused increased cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) levels, protein kinase A (PKA) activation and cAMP response element-binding protein phosphorylation. In addition, pretreatment with a PKA inhibitor (H89) suppressed PDE11A variant-induced Tau phosphorylation formation. This study offers insight into the involvement of Tau phosphorylation via the cAMP/PKA pathway in EOAD pathogenesis and provides a potential new target for intervention.