Studies with neonate chicks, trained on a passive avoidance task, suggest that at least two shorter-term memory stages precede long-term, protein synthesis-dependent memory consolidation. Posttetanic neuronal hyperpolarization arising from two distinct mechanisms is postulated to underlie formation of these two early memory stages. Maintenance of the second of these stages may involve a prolonged period of hyperpolarization brought about by phosphorylation of particular proteins. A triggering mechanism for long-term consolidation is postulated to occur at a specific time during the second stage, and may involve reinforcement-contingent release of neuronal noradrenaline stimulating cAMP-dependent intracellular processes. The possibility that astroglia may have a critical role to play in these early stages of memory processing is raised.