Adrenal steroid hormones modulate learning and memory processes by interacting with specific glucocorticoid receptors at different brain areas. In this article, certain components of the physiological response to stress elicited by learning situations are proposed to form an integral aspect of the neurobiological mechanism underlying memory formation. By reviewing the work carried out in different learning models in chicks (passive avoidance learning) and rats (spatial orientation in the Morris water maze and contextual fear conditioning), a role for brain corticosterone action through the glucocorticoid receptor type on the mechanisms of memory consolidation is hypothesized. Evidence is also presented to relate post-training corticosterone levels to the strength of memory storage. Finally, the possible molecular mechanisms that might mediate the influences of glucocorticoids in synaptic plasticity subserving long-term memory formation are considered, mainly by focusing on studies implicating a steroid action through (i) glutamatergic transmission and (ii) cell adhesion molecules.