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Neuropsychologia. 2009 Mar;47(4):1088-95. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.12.036. Epub 2009 Jan 7.

Navigational expertise may compromise anterograde associative memory.

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1
Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Institute of Neurology, University College London, London WC1N 3BG, UK. k.woollett@fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk

Abstract

Grey matter volume increases have been associated with expertise in a range of domains. Much less is known, however, about the broader cognitive advantages or costs associated with skills and their concomitant neuroanatomy. In this study we investigated a group of highly skilled navigators, licensed London taxi drivers. We replicated findings from previous studies by showing taxi drivers had greater grey matter volume in posterior hippocampus and less grey matter volume in anterior hippocampus compared to matched control subjects. We then employed an extensive battery of tests to investigate the neuropsychological consequences of being a skilled taxi driver. Their learning of and recognition memory for individual items was comparable with control subjects, as were working memory, retrograde memory, perceptual and executive functions. By contrast, taxi drivers were significantly more knowledgeable about London landmarks and their spatial relationships. However, they were significantly worse at forming and retaining new associations involving visual information. We consider possible reasons for this decreased performance including the reduced grey matter volume in the anterior hippocampus of taxi drivers, similarities with models of aging, and saturation of long-term potentiation which may reduce information-storage capacity.

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