Cognitive impairment is a frequent manifestation of advanced human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The response to antiretroviral medication is often partial and poorly sustained. Recent studies suggest that free radical production within the CNS and neuronal apoptosis may play important roles in the pathogenesis of HIV dementia. We conducted a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using a parallel group, 2 x 2 factorial design evaluating deprenyl, a monoamine oxidase B inhibitor and putative anti-apoptotic agent, and thioctic acid, an antioxidant, in 36 patients with HIV-associated cognitive impairment. Both deprenyl and thioctic acid were well tolerated with few adverse events. Deprenyl recipients showed significant improvement on tests of verbal memory compared with patients not taking deprenyl. Thioctic acid treatment did not improve cognitive function. These results suggest that deprenyl treatment is associated with cognitive improvement in subjects with mild HIV-associated cognitive impairment, whereas thioctic acid has no benefit. A larger efficacy trial is needed to assess the long-term effect of deprenyl on cognitive performance in patients with HIV infection.