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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Jul 24;115(30):7795-7800. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1802730115. Epub 2018 Jul 9.

Enhanced brain activity associated with memory access in highly superior autobiographical memory.

Author information

Department of Philosophy, Social Sciences & Education, University of Perugia, 06123 Perugia, Italy;
Neuroimaging Laboratory, Santa Lucia Foundation, 00179 Rome, Italy.
Department of Philosophy, Social Sciences & Education, University of Perugia, 06123 Perugia, Italy.
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Sapienza University of Rome, 00185 Rome, Italy.
Centre for Behavioural Sciences and Mental Health, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, 00161 Rome, Italy.
Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-3800;
Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-3800.
Neurobiology of Behavior Laboratory, Santa Lucia Foundation, 00143 Rome, Italy.


Brain systems underlying human memory function have been classically investigated studying patients with selective memory impairments. The discovery of rare individuals who have highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM) provides, instead, an opportunity to investigate the brain systems underlying enhanced memory. Here, we carried out an fMRI investigation of a group of subjects identified as having HSAM. During fMRI scanning, eight subjects with HSAM and 21 control subjects were asked to retrieve autobiographical memories (AMs) as well as non-AMs (e.g., examples of animals). Subjects were instructed to signal the "access" to an AM by a key press and to continue "reliving" it immediately after. Compared with controls, individuals with HSAM provided a richer AM recollection and were faster in accessing AMs. The access to AMs was associated with enhanced prefrontal/hippocampal functional connectivity. AM access also induced increased activity in the left temporoparietal junction and enhanced functional coupling with sensory cortices in subjects with HSAM compared with controls. In contrast, subjects with HSAM did not differ from controls in functional activity during the reliving phase. These findings, based on fMRI assessment, provide evidence of interaction of brain systems engaged in memory retrieval and suggest that enhanced activity of these systems is selectively involved in enabling more efficient access to past experiences in HSAM.


fMRI; functional connectivity; hippocampus; long-term memory; prefrontal cortex

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