To ascertain whether very low dosages of pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) influence learning in mammals, immediately after the acquisition trial of a passive avoidance response (PAR) paradigm, PACAP-38 was administered intracerebroventricularly at increasing dosages (0, 0.02, 0.2, 2, 20, and 200 ng in 10 microl saline) to different groups of rats. The mnemonic effects were measured by means of retention testing 48 and 96 h later. At intermediate PACAP-38 concentrations there was a significant mnemonic improvement of the PAR. The maximal effect was observed after the 0.2-ng PACAP-38 administration (longer step-through latencies). There was a lesser effect at the subsequent higher concentration, 2 ng. Higher dosages had no effects. It is concluded that PACAP-38 acts as an enhancer of mammalian mnemonic processes even at very low dosages. The positive effect follows an inverted U-shaped dose-response curve. The results may be of interest for the therapy of some neuropathological conditions.