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Scand J Psychol. 2001 Jul;42(3):197-216.

Learning related modulation of functional retrieval networks in man.

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Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.


The medial temporal lobe has been implicated in studies of episodic memory tasks involving spatio-temporal context and object-location conjunctions. We have previously demonstrated that an increased level of practice in a free-recall task parallels a decrease in the functional activity of several brain regions, including the medial temporal lobe, the prefrontal, the anterior cingulate, the anterior insular, and the posterior parietal cortices, that in concert demonstrate a move from elaborate controlled processing towards a higher degree of automaticity. Here we report data from two experiments that extend these initial observations. We used a similar experimental approach but probed for effects of retrieval paradigms and stimulus material. In the first experiment we investigated practice related changes during recognition of object-location conjunctions and in the second during free-recall of pseudo-words. Learning in a neural network is a dynamic consequence of information processing and network plasticity. The present and previous PET results indicate that practice can induce a learning related functional restructuring of information processing. Different adaptive processes likely subserve the functional re-organisation observed. These may in part be related to different demands for attentional and working memory processing. It appears that the role(s) of the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal lobe in memory retrieval are complex, perhaps reflecting several different interacting processes or cognitive components. We suggest that an integrative interactive perspective on the role of the prefrontal and medial temporal lobe is necessary for an understanding of the processing significance of these regions in learning and memory. It appears necessary to develop elaborated and explicit computational models for prefrontal and medial temporal functions in order to derive detailed empirical predictions, and in combination with an efficient use and development of functional neuroimaging approaches, to further the understanding of the processing significance of these regions in memory.

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