In this study, the protective effect of piracetam on select aspects of cognitive function in patients undergoing bypass surgery was investigated. Male patients (n = 64) with an indication for a surgical revascularization using artificial extracorporal circuits were randomly assigned in a double-blind fashion to receive a single challenge of 12-g piracetam infusion or placebo (sterile saline) prior to the bypass surgery. A brief battery of neuropsychological tests for verbal and non-verbal short-term memory and attention was administered 1 day before and 3 days after the surgical intervention. There was a significant difference in short-term memory and attention, with the piracetam-treated patients producing a better level of performance 3 days after surgery compared to the placebo group. The overall postoperative cognitive function (z-transformation of all 6 test results) was more significantly (p < 0.001) reduced in the placebo group than in the piracetam group (z = -1.19 +/- 0.72 vs. -0.46 +/- 0.58, respectively). A single challenge of 12-g piracetam infusion prior to surgical intervention might offer a short-term neuroprotective effect for patients undergoing cardiac bypass surgery. Whether this effect persists for a longer period of time requires further investigation.