BACKGROUND: The concept of reserve was established to account for the observation that a given degree of neurodegenerative pathology may result in varying degrees of symptoms in different individuals. There is a large amount of evidence on epidemiological risk and protective factors for neurodegenerative diseases and dementia, yet the biological mechanisms that underpin the protective effects of certain lifestyle and physiological variables remain poorly understood, limiting the development of more effective preventive and treatment strategies. Additionally, different definitions and concepts of reserve exist, which hampers the coordination of research and comparison of results across studies.DISCUSSION: This paper represents the consensus of a multidisciplinary group of experts from different areas of research related to reserve, including clinical, epidemiological and basic sciences. The consensus was developed during meetings of the working groups of the first International Conference on Cognitive Reserve in the Dementias (24-25 November 2017, Munich, Germany) and the Alzheimer's Association Reserve and Resilience Professional Interest Area (25 July 2018, Chicago, USA). The main objective of the present paper is to develop a translational perspective on putative mechanisms underlying reserve against neurodegenerative disease, combining evidence from epidemiological and clinical studies with knowledge from animal and basic research. The potential brain functional and structural basis of reserve in Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders are discussed, as well as relevant lifestyle and genetic factors assessed in both humans and animal models.CONCLUSION: There is an urgent need to advance our concept of reserve from a hypothetical model to a more concrete approach that can be used to improve the development of effective interventions aimed at preventing dementia. Our group recommends agreement on a common dictionary of terms referring to different aspects of reserve, the improvement of opportunities for data sharing across individual cohorts, harmonising research approaches across laboratories and groups to reduce heterogeneity associated with human data, global coordination of clinical trials to more effectively explore whether reducing epidemiological risk factors leads to a reduced burden of neurodegenerative diseases in the population, and an increase in our understanding of the appropriateness of animal models for reserve research.