Three hypotheses have been proposed to explain neuropathological heterogeneity in Alzheimer’s disease (AD): the presence of distinct subtypes (‘subtype hypothesis’), variation in the stage of the disease (‘phase hypothesis’) and variation in the origin and progression of the disease (‘compensation hypothesis’). To test these hypotheses, variation in the distribution and severity of senile plaques (SP) and neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) was studied in 80 cases of AD using principal components analysis (PCA). Principal components analysis using the cases as variables (Q-type analysis) suggested that individual differences between patients were continuously distributed rather than the cases being clustered into distinct subtypes. In addition, PCA using the abundances of SP and NFT as variables (R-type analysis) suggested that variations in the presence and abundance of lesions in the frontal and occipital lobes, the cingulate gyrus and the posterior parahippocampal gyrus were the most important sources of heterogeneity consistent with the presence of different stages of the disease. In addition, in a subgroup of patients, individual differences were related to apolipoprotein E (ApoE) genotype, the presence and severity of SP in the frontal and occipital cortex being significantly increased in patients expressing apolipoprotein (Apo)E allele ɛ4. It was concluded that some of the neuropathological heterogeneity in our AD cases may be consistent with the ‘phase hypothesis’. A major factor determining this variation in late-onset cases was ApoE genotype with accelerated rates of spread of the pathology in patients expressing allele ɛ4.