Cognitive functions such as memory retrieval involve a combination of state- and item-related processes. State-related processes are sustained throughout a task (e.g., "retrieval mode" associated with ongoing goals), whereas item-related processes are transient and allied to individual stimuli (e.g., "retrieval success" associated with the recovery of information from memory). The present study employed a mixed "blocked and event-related" experimental design to identify neural mechanisms that support state- and item-related processes during a recognition memory task. Subjects alternated between blocks of fixation and recognition memory (discriminating between old and new words). Critically, event-related procedures were embedded within the recognition blocks, including the jittering of sequential trials. This design ensures that the temporal profiles of state- and item-related activity differ and consequently renders them separable; without this procedure item-related activity would summate to produce a state-like response. Results suggest three classes of brain region support recognition memory, exhibiting: (1) predominantly transient activity (including regions in medial parietal, lateral parietal, and anterior left frontal cortex) reflecting item-related processing associated with "retrieval success," (2) predominantly sustained activity (including decreased activity in bilateral parahippocampal cortex) reflecting state-related processing associated with "retrieval mode," (3) concurrent sustained and transient activity (including regions in left middle frontal gyrus, bilateral frontal operculum, and medial frontal gyrus), reflecting a combination of state- and item-related processing. The present findings support the idea that recognition memory tasks are dependent upon a combination of state- and item-related processes that have dissociable neural correlates identifiable using fMRI. Moreover, the mixed "blocked and event-related" design employed here provides a general procedure for separating state- and item-related processes.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.