The relationship between the degree and distribution of hippocampal atrophy measured by volumetric magnetic resonance imaging and severity of memory deficits in 25 patients with temporal lobe epilepsy secondary to mesial temporal sclerosis was assessed. Hippocampal volumes were expressed as a ratio of smaller to larger, normal ratio greater than 0.95. Neuropsychology tests included: subtests of the WAIS-R, Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Task, Rey Figure and the Austin Maze. Degree of left hippocampal atrophy in patients with left temporal lobe epilepsy was associated with severity of verbal memory deficits as measured by RAVLT total recall (P < 0.05), delayed recall (P < 0.001), story recognition (P < 0.001), list recognition (P < 0.001) and final delayed recall (P < 0.001) and recall of the Rey Figure (P < 0.01). There was no association between degree of right hippocampal atrophy and any of the memory tests. Diffuse left hippocampal atrophy was associated with more severe verbal memory deficits than anterior atrophy. We conclude, the association between degree of left hippocampal atrophy and verbal memory provides further evidence of the predominant involvement of the left hippocampus in verbal memory. The finding of a relationship between degree of left hippocampal atrophy and measures of non-verbal function suggests these tests are dependent on verbal memory, or that mesial temporal sclerosis is a bilateral but asymmetrical condition.