The biological changes that occur in the brains of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients are thought to begin long before the onset of clinical symptoms. Although current therapeutic agents have been approved only for patients with mild to moderate AD, Alzheimer-type pathology in patients with mild to moderate AD is already quite advanced. One impetus for the development of the concept of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) was the attempt to recognize AD early in its clinical expression and to determine whether it is possible through therapeutic interventions to improve the memory impairment at this stage or delay further progression to dementia. To this end, several clinical trials have been conducted in patients with MCI. On September 8 and 9, 2004 a meeting of the Alzheimer's Association Research Roundtable was held at which experts in the field of MCI convened to review the collective experience from these trials and to consider potential approaches that might improve MCI clinical trials in the future. This article summarizes the presentations and discussions of that meeting.