Hippocampal volume measurements using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and assessment of performance in tests of delayed recall are among the most useful aids for diagnosing early Alzheimer's disease (AD) on an individual level. However, their comparative diagnostic accuracy has not been previously addressed. In this study we compared the diagnostic accuracy of these two methods in 57 patients with probable AD according to the NINCDS-ADRDA criteria, and 34 age- and gender-matched control subjects. The discriminatory power of the hippocampal volumes and delayed recall performance, Russel's Adaptation of the Visual Reproduction Test (VRT), were compared in discrimination function and receiver operator characteristic analyses. Right and left hippocampal volumes resulted in correct classification of 85.7-86.8% of the study subjects, respectively, while performance in the VRT resulted in correct classification of 93.4% of subjects. The area under curve value was 0.93 for the left hippocampus and 0.96 for the VRT. These data suggest that assessment of delayed recall with the VRT is of high diagnostic accuracy, and may surpass the diagnostic accuracy of hippocampal volumetry.