L-Glutamate is the most abundant of a group of endogenous amino acids in the mammalian central nervous system which presumably function as excitatory neurotransmitters and under abnormal conditions may behave as neurotoxins. As neurotransmitters, these compounds are thought to play an important role in functions of learning and memory. As neurotoxins, they are believed to be involved in the pathogenesis of a variety of neurodegenerative disorders in which cognition is impaired. Moreover, brain structures which are considered anatomical substrata for learning and memory may be particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic actions of these excitatory amino acids, especially in the elderly who are also the segment of the population most susceptible to impairments of mnemonic function. This paper is a review of data concerning the role of excitatory amino acids in the processes of learning and memory and in the pathogenesis and treatment of disorders thereof.