In vitro preincubation of brain membranes of aged mice with piracetam (0.1-1.0 mmol/L) enhanced membrane fluidity, as indicated by decreased anisotropy of the membrane-bound fluorescence probe 1,6-diphenyl-1,3,5-hexatriene (DPH). Piracetam had similar in vitro effects on brain membranes of aged rats and humans, but it did not alter brain membrane fluidity in young mice. Chronic treatment of young and aged rats with piracetam (300 mg/kg once daily) significantly increased membrane fluidity in some brain regions of the aged animals, but had no measurable effect on membrane fluidity in the young rats. The same treatment significantly improved active avoidance learning in the aged rats only. It is suggested that some of the pharmacological properties of piracetam can be explained by its effects on membrane fluidity.