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J Neurosci. 2012 Nov 21;32(47):16982-91. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2475-12.2012.

Detecting representations of recent and remote autobiographical memories in vmPFC and hippocampus.

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Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Institute of Neurology, University College London, London, WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.


How autobiographical memories are represented in the human brain and whether this changes with time are questions central to memory neuroscience. Two regions in particular have been consistently implicated, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the hippocampus, although their precise contributions are still contested. The key question in this debate, when reduced to its simplest form, concerns where information about specific autobiographical memories is located. Here, we availed ourselves of the opportunity afforded by multivoxel pattern analysis to provide an alternative to conventional neuropsychological and fMRI approaches, by detecting representations of individual autobiographical memories in patterns of fMRI activity. We examined whether information about specific recent (two weeks old) and remote (10 years old) autobiographical memories was represented in vmPFC and hippocampus, and other medial temporal and neocortical regions. vmPFC contained information about recent and remote autobiographical memories, although remote memories were more readily detected there, indicating that consolidation or a change of some kind had occurred. Information about both types of memory was also present in the hippocampus, suggesting it plays a role in the retrieval of vivid autobiographical memories regardless of remoteness. Interestingly, we also found that while recent and remote memories were both represented within anterior and posterior hippocampus, the latter nevertheless contained more information about remote memories. Thus, like vmPFC, the hippocampus too respected the distinction between recent and remote memories. Overall, these findings clarify and extend our view of vmPFC and hippocampus while also informing systems-level consolidation and providing clear targets for future studies.

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