The effect of aniracetam (Ro 13-5057, 1-anisoyl-2-pyrrolidinone) was studied on various forms of experimentally impaired cognitive functions (learning and memory) in rodents and produced the following effects: (1) almost complete prevention of the incapacity to learn a discrete escape response in rats exposed to sublethal hypercapnia immediately before the acquisition session; (2) partial (rats) or complete (mice) prevention of the scopolamine-induced short-term amnesia for a passive avoidance task; (3) complete protection against amnesia for a passive avoidance task in rats submitted to electroconvulsive shock immediately after avoidance acquisition; (4) prevention of the long-term retention- or retrieval-deficit for a passive avoidance task induced in rats and mice by chloramphenicol or cycloheximide administered immediately after acquisition; (5) reversal, when administered as late as 1 h before the retention test, of the deficit in retention or retrieval of a passive avoidance task induced by cycloheximide injected 2 days previously; (6) prevention of the deficit in the retrieval of an active avoidance task induced in mice by subconvulsant electroshock or hypercapnia applied immediately before retrieval testing (24 h after acquisition). These improvements or normalizations of impaired cognitive functions were seen at oral aniracetam doses of 10-100 mg/kg. Generally, the dose-response curves were bell-shaped. The mechanisms underlying the activity of aniracetam and its 'therapeutic window' are unknown. Piracetam, another pyrrolidinone derivative was used for comparison. It was active only in six of nine tests and had about one-tenth the potency of aniracetam. The results indicate that aniracetam improves cognitive functions which are impaired by different procedure and in different phases of the learning and memory process.