Material-specific lateralization in the medial temporal lobe and prefrontal cortex during memory encoding

Brain. 2001 Sep;124(Pt 9):1841-54. doi: 10.1093/brain/124.9.1841.


Numerous observations in patients with unilateral lesions of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) and the prefrontal cortex indicate that memory processes are lateralized according to content. Left-sided lesions interfere with verbal memory processes, whereas right-sided lesions interfere with visuospatial (non-verbal) memory processes. However, functional imaging studies have resulted in contradictory data, some studies showing lateralization in the prefrontal cortex determined by stage of processing (encoding versus retrieval) and others suggesting that lateralization is dependent on the type of material. Few studies have examined this issue in the MTL. In order to test the hypothesis that the lateralization of encoding processes in the MTL and frontal regions is dependent on the verbalizability of the material, we performed behavioural and functional imaging studies. We demonstrated differing verbalizabilities of three classes of non-verbal stimuli (scenes > faces > abstract patterns) using a dual-task verbal interference behavioural paradigm. A functional neuroimaging study of encoding was carried out using these three types of stimuli, plus words. During whole-brain functional MRI at 1.5 T, eight normal right-handed adults were presented with alternating blocks of novel and repeated stimuli under intentional memory encoding conditions. Verbal encoding resulted in left-lateralized activation of the inferior prefrontal cortex and the MTL. Pattern encoding activated the right inferior prefrontal cortex and the right MTL. Scenes and faces resulted in approximately symmetrical activation in both regions. The data indicate that the lateralization of encoding processes is determined by the verbalizability of stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Face
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology