The participation of the medial temporal cortex and other cerebral structures in the memory impairment that accompanies aging was examined by means of positron emission tomography. Cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was measured during encoding and recognition of faces. Young people showed increased rCBF in the right hippocampus and the left prefrontal and temporal cortices during encoding and in the right prefrontal and parietal cortex during recognition. Old people showed no significant activation in areas activated during encoding in young people but did show right prefrontal activation during recognition. Age-related impairments of memory may be due to a failure to encode the stimuli adequately, which is reflected in the lack of cortical and hippocampal activation during encoding.