Stress blocks hippocampal primed-burst potentiation, a low threshold form of long-term potentiation, thereby suggesting that stress should also impair hippocampal-dependent memory. Therefore, the effects of stress on working (hippocampal-dependent) and reference (hippocampal-independent) memory were evaluated. Rats foraged for food in seven arms of a 14-arm radial maze. After they ate the food in four of the seven baited arms, they were placed in an unfamiliar environment (stress) for a 4-hr delay. At the end of the delay they were returned to the maze to locate the food in the 3 remaining baited arms. Stress impaired only working memory. Stress interfered with the retrieval of previously stored information (retrograde amnesia), but did not produce anterograde amnesia. Stress appears to induce a transient disruption of hippocampal function, which is revealed behaviorally as retrograde amnesia and physiologically as a blockade of synaptic plasticity.