The effect of intravenously administered ceruletide, a cholecystokinin (CCK) analogue, on neurophysiologic signs of stimulus processing was tested in 16 young (19-28 years) and 16 aged (70-86 years) healthy subjects. Placebo or 2.5 micrograms ceruletide was infused within 30 minutes according to a double-blind within-subject crossover design. Thereafter, auditory event-related brain potential (AERP) responses to stimuli of an "oddball" task (including the random presentation of frequent standard tones and rare target tones) were recorded. Amplitudes of the P2, P3, and SW components of the AERP were reduced in aged subjects (p < 0.05, p < 0.001, and p < 0.01, respectively), and latencies (from stimulus onset) of the N2 and P3 components were prolonged (p < 0.05 and p < 0.01, respectively). Together, these changes indicate impaired cognitive processing capabilities in aged compared with young subjects. Ceruletide enhanced P3 and also the subsequent slow-wave (SW) component that occurs 500 to 700 ms poststimulus in young subjects (p < 0.05 and p < 0.001, respectively). The peptide did not at all affect AERPs in the elderly subjects. Results demonstrate the capability of ceruletide after systemic administration to enhance central nervous system indicators of cognitive processing such as P3 and SW in young subjects. However, despite the clear effect of the CCK analogue in young subjects, it remained ineffective in the group of aged subjects and, thus, failed to compensate for the decline in AERP signs of working memory functioning in the elderly subjects.