Verbal fluency tests (VFTs) are suggested to assess frontal lobe function. This view is supported by functional imaging studies that report left frontal activation during VFTs. VFTs require retrieval of semantically associated words from long-term memory storage. The neural networks that participate in this process, however, are largely unknown. These neural networks are of interest, given that patients with early Alzheimer's disease, typically without frontal pathology, are often impaired in VFTs. In the present study, functional magnetic resonance imaging was performed to determine brain activation areas during VFTs in young subjects. In the activation task, category fluency was contrasted with orderly listing of numbers. As judged from using this comparison, there was activation in the left medial temporal lobe, in the inferior frontal and retrosplenial cortices bilaterally, and in the left superior parietal lobule. Left medial temporal lobe activation was present in 13 of the 14 study subjects either in the hippocampal formation (11 of 14) or in the posterior parahippocampal gyrus (12 of 14). These results suggest that the medial temporal lobe is required for the process of retrieval by category. Functional magnetic resonance imaging combined with a category fluency task may provide a new method to study patients with early Alzheimer's disease.