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Front Hum Neurosci. 2011 Oct 30;5:112. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00112. eCollection 2011.

Search-Related Suppression of Hippocampus and Default Network Activity during Associative Memory Retrieval.

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  • 1Department of Neurosciences, University of California San Diego, CA, USA.


Episodic memory retrieval involves the coordinated interaction of several cognitive processing stages such as mental search, access to a memory store, associative re-encoding, and post-retrieval monitoring. The neural response during memory retrieval is an integration of signals from multiple regions that may subserve supportive cognitive control, attention, sensory association, encoding, or working memory functions. It is particularly challenging to dissociate contributions of these distinct components to brain responses in regions such as the hippocampus, which lies at the interface between overlapping memory encoding and retrieval, and "default" networks. In the present study, event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and measures of memory performance were used to differentiate brain responses to memory search from subcomponents of episodic memory retrieval associated with successful recall. During the attempted retrieval of both poorly and strongly remembered word pair associates, the hemodynamic response was negatively deflected below baseline in anterior hippocampus and regions of the default network. Activations in anterior hippocampus were functionally distinct from those in posterior hippocampus and negatively correlated with response times. Thus, relative to the pre-stimulus period, the hippocampus shows reduced activity during intensive engagement in episodic memory search. Such deactivation was most salient during trials that engaged only pre-retrieval search processes in the absence of successful recollection or post-retrieval processing. Implications for interpretation of hippocampal fMRI responses during retrieval are discussed. A model is presented to interpret such activations as representing modulation of encoding-related activity, rather than retrieval-related activity. Engagement in intensive mental search may reduce neural and attentional resources that are otherwise tonically devoted to encoding an individual's stream of experience into episodic memory.


default network; fMRI; hippocampus; memory; retrieval

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