Psychogenic amnesia is characterized by an inability to recall information already stored in the patient's memory. It is usually related to a stressful or traumatic event that cannot be explained by manifest brain damage. To examine the underlying functional disturbance of brain areas in this condition, we performed a positron emission tomography (PET) activation study on a psychogenic amnesic patient and on 12 normal control subjects. A task requiring explicit retrograde memory of faces was compared with a control task. To assess functional modifications associated with the processes of recovery, a second PET study was performed on the patient 12 months after onset. During the task, activation of the right anterior medial temporal region including the amygdala was increased in the psychogenic amnesic patient. Activation of the bilateral hippocampal regions increased only in the control subjects. During recovery, the right anterior medial temporal region became less active while the right hippocampal region became more active. Activation levels also differed in the anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex and some other cortical regions between control subjects and the patient. These findings suggest that the changes in these limbic and limbic-cortical functions are related to symptoms of the psychogenic amnesia.