Mounting evidence suggests excessive glucocorticoid activity may contribute to Alzheimer's disease (AD) and age-associated memory impairment. 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type-1 (HSD1) regulates conversion of glucocorticoids from inactive to active forms. HSD1 knock-out mice have improved cognition, and the nonselective inhibitor carbenoxolone improved verbal memory in elderly men. Together, these data suggest that HSD1 inhibition may be a potential therapy for cognitive deficits, such as those associated with AD. To investigate this, we characterized two novel and selective HSD1 inhibitors, A-918446 and A-801195. Learning, memory consolidation, and recall were evaluated in mouse 24 h inhibitory avoidance. Inhibition of brain cortisol production and phosphorylation of cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB), a transcription factor involved in cognition, were also examined. Rats were tested in a short-term memory model, social recognition, and in a separate group cortical and hippocampal acetylcholine release was measured via in vivo microdialysis. Acute treatment with A-801195 (10-30 mg/kg) or A-918446 (3-30 mg/kg) inhibited cortisol production in the ex vivo assay by ∼ 35-90%. Acute treatment with A-918446 improved memory consolidation and recall in inhibitory avoidance and increased CREB phosphorylation in the cingulate cortex. Acute treatment with A-801195 significantly improved short-term memory in rat social recognition that was not likely due to alterations of the cholinergic system, as acetylcholine release was not increased in a separate set of rats. These studies suggest that selective HSD1 inhibitors work through a novel, noncholinergic mechanism to facilitate cognitive processing.