Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) is a serine/threonine protein kinase abundantly expressed in postmitotic neurons of the developed nervous system. MAPK is activated in and required for both the induction of long-term potentiation (LTP) in hippocampal slices and the acquisition of fear conditioning training in rats. The present work was performed in order to test the effect of the specific inhibitor of MAPK kinase (MAPKK), PD 098059, on retention of a step-down inhibitory avoidance (IA). Adult male Wistar rats were bilaterally injected (0.5 microl/side) with PD 098059 (at 0.5, 5, or 50 microM) or vehicle into the entorhinal cortex or into the parietal cortex immediately after IA training using a 0.4 mA footshock. Retention testing was carried out 24 h after training. PD 098059 impaired retention when injected into the entorhinal cortex at the dose of 50 microM, but not at the doses of 5 or 0.5 microM. When infused into the parietal cortex, PD 098059 was amnestic at the doses of 5 and 50 microM. The drug had no effect when infused at the highest dose in either structure 6 h after training. Our results suggest that the MAPKK inhibitor impairs IA retention memory in a dose-dependent manner when injected immediately after training into entorhinal cortex or parietal cortex. The effective dose is variable according to the neocortical structure studied.