1.--Mitochondrial dysfunction including decrease of mitochondrial membrane potential and reduced ATP production represents a common final pathway of many conditions associated with oxidative stress, for example, hypoxia, hypoglycemia, and aging. 2.--Since the cognition-improving effects of the standard nootropic piracetam are usually more pronounced under such pathological conditions and young healthy animals usually benefit little by piracetam, the effect of piracetam on mitochondrial dysfunction following oxidative stress was investigated using PC12 cells and dissociated brain cells of animals treated with piracetam. 3.--Piracetam treatment at concentrations between 100 and 1000 microM improved mitochondrial membrane potential and ATP production of PC12 cells following oxidative stress induced by sodium nitroprusside (SNP) and serum deprivation. Under conditions of mild serum deprivation, piracetam (500 microM) induced a nearly complete recovery of mitochondrial membrane potential and ATP levels. Piracetam also reduced caspase 9 activity after SNP treatment. 4.--Piracetam treatment (100-500 mg kg(-1) daily) of mice was also associated with improved mitochondrial function in dissociated brain cells. Significant improvement was mainly seen in aged animals and only less in young animals. Moreover, the same treatment reduced antioxidant enzyme activities (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione reductase) in aged mouse brain only, which are elevated as an adaptive response to the increased oxidative stress with aging. 5.--In conclusion, therapeutically relevant in vitro and in vivo concentrations of piracetam are able to improve mitochondrial dysfunction associated with oxidative stress and/or aging. Mitochondrial stabilization and protection might be an important mechanism to explain many of piracetam's beneficial effects in elderly patients.