The nootropic drug, aniracetam, behaves as a positive modulator of AMPA-sensitive glutamate receptors in a variety of systems, including intact brain tissue, amphibian oocytes injected with rat brain mRNA, and cultured neurons. In electrophysiological studies, aniracetam both increases the peak amplitude and reduces the rate of decay of the ion current generated by AMPA or quisqualate. In cultured neurons, aniracetam (as well as oxiracetam and piracetam) enhances the stimulation of 45Ca2+ influx produced by AMPA but not that produced by kainate or NMDA. In addition, aniracetam (as other nootropic drugs) increases the maximal density of low affinity binding sites for [3H]AMPA in crude synaptic membranes. Positive modulation of AMPA receptors by aniracetam provides a novel molecular substrate which explains the clinical efficacy of nootropic drugs as memory and cognition enhancers.