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Neuroimage. 2002 Sep;17(1):393-400.

Retrieval of relational information: a role for the left inferior prefrontal cortex.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Neuroimaging studies have implicated different areas of prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe structures (MTL) in episodic retrieval tasks. However, the role of specific regions in particular aspects of episodic memory is still unclear. In this experiment we studied changes in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) associated with relational and nonrelational retrieval of studied pairs of words. For relational retrieval, a list of either studied or rearranged pairs was presented and subjects (n = 8) were asked to indicate whether pairs had appeared on the study list. Under the nonrelational retrieval condition they indicated whether one or both words of the pair had appeared on the study list. As compared to the baseline condition (looking at a cross-mark), increased rCBF was observed in the left inferior prefrontal cortex (LIPFC) for both studied pairs and rearranged pairs under the relational retrieval condition. Under the nonrelational condition, an increase was observed in right inferior frontal gyrus. The MTL showed a trend for increased rCBF in the rearranged-pair condition. This increase was probably associated with the encoding that accompanies retrieval of novel stimuli. Results suggest that the lateralized activation of prefrontal cortex observed in episodic memory tasks may be related to the degree of relational processing involved. The LIPFC appears to be associated with relational retrieval and the right prefrontal cortex with nonrelational retrieval.

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