The present study examined the role of the prefrontal cortex in retrieval processing using functional magnetic resonance imaging in human subjects. Ten healthy subjects were scanned while they performed a task that required retrieval of specific aspects of visual information. In order to examine brain activity specifically associated with retrieval, we designed a task that had retrieval and control conditions that were perfectly matched in terms of depth of encoding, decision making and postretrieval monitoring and differed only in terms of whether retrieval was required. In the retrieval condition, based on an instructional cue, the subjects had to retrieve either the particular stimulus that was previously presented or its location. In the control condition, the cue did not instruct retrieval but shared with the instructional cues the function of alerting the subjects of the impending test phase. The comparison of activity between the retrieval and control conditions demonstrated a significant and selective increase in activity related to retrieval processes within the ventrolateral prefrontal cortical region, more specifically within area 47/12. These activity increases were bilateral but stronger in the right hemisphere. The present study by strictly controlling the level of encoding, postretrieval monitoring, and decision making has demonstrated a specific increase in the ventrolateral prefrontal region that could be clearly related to active retrieval processing, i.e. the active selection of particular stored visual representations.