Individuals with Down syndrome (DS) will inevitably develop Alzheimer disease (AD) neuropathology sometime after middle age, which may be attributable to genes triplicated in individuals with DS. The characteristics of AD neuropathology include neuritic plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and neuronal loss in various brain regions. The mechanism underlying neurodegeneration in AD and DS remains elusive. Regulator of calcineurin 1 (RCAN1) has been implicated in the pathogenesis of DS. Our data show that RCAN1 expression is elevated in the cortex of DS and AD patients. RCAN1 expression can be activated by the stress hormone dexamethasone. A functional glucocorticoid response element was identified in the RCAN1 isoform 1 (RCAN1-1) promoter region, which is able to mediate the up-regulation of RCAN1 expression. Here we show that overexpression of RCAN1-1 in primary neurons activates caspase-9 and caspase-3 and subsequently induces neuronal apoptosis. Furthermore, we found that the neurotoxicity of RCAN1-1 is inhibited by knock-out of caspase-3 in caspase-3(-/-) neurons. Our study provides a novel mechanism by which RCAN1 functions as a mediator of stress- and Aβ-induced neuronal death, and overexpression of RCAN1 due to an extra copy of the RCAN1 gene on chromosome 21 contributes to AD pathogenesis in DS.