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J Neurosci. 2009 Jan 28;29(4):930-8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4545-08.2009.

Medial temporal lobe activity during retrieval of semantic memory is related to the age of the memory.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


We measured brain activity using event-related fMRI as participants recalled answers to 160 questions about news events that had occurred during the past 30 years. Guided by earlier findings from patients with damage limited to the hippocampus who were given the same test material, we looked for regions that exhibited gradually decreasing activity as participants recalled memories from 1-12 years ago and a constant level of activity during recall of more remote memories. Regions in the medial temporal lobe exhibited a decrease in brain activity in relation to the age of the memory (hippocampus, temporopolar cortex, and amygdala). Regions in the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, and parietal lobe exhibited the opposite pattern. The findings for all of these regions were unrelated to the richness of the memories, to how well test questions were remembered later (encoding for subsequent memory), nor to how frequently semantic memories were accompanied by personal, episodic recollections. Last, activity in a different group of regions (perirhinal cortex, parahippocampal cortex, and inferior temporal gyrus) was associated with how well the test questions were subsequently remembered. The results support the idea that medial temporal lobe structures play a time-limited role in semantic memory.

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