Individuals with early Alzheimers disease (AD) suffer from a selective and profound failure to form new memories. A novel molecular mechanism with implications for therapeutics and diagnostics is now emerging in which the specificity of AD for memory derives from disruption of plasticity at synapses targeted by toxic Aβ oligomers (also known as ADDLs). ADDLs accumulate in AD brain and constitute long-lived alternatives to the disease-defining Aβ fibrils deposited in amyloid plaques. The AD-like cellular pathologies induced by ADDLs suggest their impact could provide a unifying mechanism for AD pathogenesis, explaining why early stage disease is specific for memory and accounting for major facets of AD neuropathology. Discovery of these new toxins has provided an appealing target for disease-modifying immunotherapy. For optimal protection against these toxins, antibodies should bind to the pathological oligomers without being depleted by their monomeric subunits, which are rapidly generated by membrane protein turnover. A solution to this problem is likely to come from the continued development of conformation-specific antibodies, as described here. Prototype conformation-specific antibodies, not yet in the clinic, have been introduced and utilized in multiple applications for their ability to bind with high specificity and affinity to ADDLs. It can be anticipated that further development of such antibodies for use in clinical trials will come in the near future.