Recent neuroanatomical and functional neuroimaging studies indicate that the anterior part of the hippocampus, rather than the whole structure, may be specifically involved in episodic memory. In the present work, we examined whether anterior structural measurements are superior to other regional or global measurements in mapping functionally relevant degenerative alterations of the hippocampus in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Twenty patients with early AD (MMSE 25.7+/-1.7) and 18 healthy controls were studied using magnetic resonance and diffusion-tensor imaging. Using a regions-of-interest analysis, we obtained volumetric and diffusivity measures of the hippocampal head and body-tail-section as well as of the whole hippocampus. Detailed cognitive evaluation was based on the CERAD battery. All volumetric measures as well as diffusivity of the hippocampus head were significantly (p<0.01) altered in patients as compared to controls. In patients, increased left head diffusivity significantly (p<0.01) correlated with performance on free delayed verbal recall test (DVR) (r=-0.74, p=0.0002) and with the CERAD global score. Reduced volume of the left body-tail was also associated with performance on DVR (r=0.62, p=0.004). Stepwise regression analyses revealed that increased left head diffusivity was the only predictor for performance on DVR (R(2)=52%, p<0.0005). These findings suggest that anterior hippocampus diffusivity is more closely related to verbal episodic memory impairment than other regional or global structural measures. Our data support the hypothesis of functional differentiation in general and the specific role of the anterior hippocampus in episodic memory in particular. Diffusivity measurements might be highly sensitive to functionally relevant degenerative alterations of the hippocampus.