Previous work indicates that stress levels of circulating glucocorticoids can impair retrieval of declarative memory in human subjects. Several studies have reported that declarative memory retrieval relies on the medial temporal lobe. The present study used H(2)(15)O-positron emission tomography to investigate whether acutely elevated glucocorticoid levels affect regional cerebral blood flow in the medial temporal lobe, as well as in other brain regions, during declarative memory retrieval in healthy male human subjects. When measured over four different declarative memory retrieval tasks, a single, stress-level dose of cortisone (25 mg) administered orally 1 h before retention testing, induced a large decrease in regional cerebral blood flow in the right posterior medial temporal lobe, the left visual cortex and the cerebellum. The decrease in the right posterior medial temporal lobe was maximal in the parahippocampal gyrus, a region associated with successful verbal memory retrieval. Cortisone administration also significantly impaired cued recall of word pairs learned 24 h earlier, while drug effects on performance in the other tasks (verbal recognition, semantic generation and categorization) were not significant. The present results provide further evidence that acutely elevated glucocorticoid levels can impair declarative memory retrieval processes and suggest that such impairments may be related to a disturbance of medial temporal lobe function.