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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Mar;22(3):717-24. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr160. Epub 2011 Jun 16.

Distractibility during episodic retrieval is exacerbated by perturbation of left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, W. M. Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.


The presence of irrelevant external stimuli during the retrieval of long-term memory (LTM) has a negative impact on the fidelity of recollected details. Top-down control processes that both guide the selection of internal information relevant to LTM goals and resolve interference on retrieval from irrelevant external information have been associated with the same region in left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). The current study examined a causal role of the left VLPFC in memory performance when external distraction (i.e., visual stimuli irrelevant to the current task goals) was presented during retrieval of LTM. Immediately after functional perturbation of the left VLPFC with 1-Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, participants' memory was tested when their eyes were closed and when their eyes were open and irrelevant visual stimuli were presented. The results showed that visual distraction diminished LTM performance based on an objective measure of recollection and that perturbation of left VLPFC exacerbated the disruptive effect. This is the first evidence of a direct role of the left VLPFC in diminishing the impact of distraction on recollection, elucidating neural mechanisms that are critically involved in how we reconstruct the past while navigating the external environment.

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