A patient (B.J.) is reported who developed severe memory impairment following a penetrating brain injury caused by a snooker cue which entered through his left nostril into the basal regions of the brian. Initially, his memory disorder had the clinical features of a dense amnesic syndrome, with both anterograde and retrograde amnesia, but B.J. subsequently showed significant recovery of memory function. Formal memory testing was carried out 21 months after injury. This demonstrated marked verbal memory impairment, as severe as that seen in patients with the amnesic syndrome. On nonverbal memory tests, his impairment was relatively mild and patchy. His retrograde amnesia had regressed mainly to affect a 6 month period before the injury. On other cognitive tasks, he performed at an average or above average level, and there was no neuropsychological evidence of frontal lobe dysfunction. Neuroradiological investigations at various stages after his injury failed to demonstrate a lesion in any of the thalamic nuclei. Magnetic resonance imaging showed a lesion in the hypothalamus in the region of the mamillary bodies. Our study demonstrates that marked, relatively focal, memory disorder after diencephalic injury can occur without direct pathology to the body of the thalamus. It also indicates that structures in or adjacent to the hypothalamus, such as the mamillary bodies, may play a more important role in human memory functioning than has hitherto been considered.