INTRODUCTION: Intranasal deferoxamine (IN DFO) has been shown to decrease memory loss and have beneficial impacts across several models of neurologic disease and injury, including rodent models of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. METHODS: In order to assess the mechanism of DFO, determine its ability to improve memory from baseline in the absence of a diseased state, and assess targeting ability of intranasal delivery, we treated healthy mice with IN DFO (2.4 mg) or intraperitoneal (IP) DFO and compared behavioral and biochemical changes with saline-treated controls. Mice were treated 5 days/week for 4 weeks and subjected to behavioral tests 30 min after dosing. RESULTS: We found that IN DFO, but not IP DFO, significantly enhanced working memory in the radial arm water maze, suggesting that IN administration is more efficacious as a targeted delivery route to the brain. Moreover, the ability of DFO to improve memory from baseline in healthy mice suggests a non-disease-specific mechanism of memory improvement. IN DFO treatment was accompanied by decreased GSK-3beta activity and increased HIF-1alpha activity. CONCLUSIONS: These pathways are suspected in DFO's ability to improve memory and perhaps represent a component of the common mechanism through which DFO enacts beneficial change in models of neurologic disease and injury.