Semantic and episodic memory of music are subserved by distinct neural networks

Neuroimage. 2003 Sep;20(1):244-56. doi: 10.1016/s1053-8119(03)00287-8.


Numerous functional imaging studies have shown that retrieval from semantic and episodic memory is subserved by distinct neural networks. However, these results were essentially obtained with verbal and visuospatial material. The aim of this work was to determine the neural substrates underlying the semantic and episodic components of music using familiar and nonfamiliar melodic tunes. To study musical semantic memory, we designed a task in which the instruction was to judge whether or not the musical extract was felt as "familiar." To study musical episodic memory, we constructed two delayed recognition tasks, one containing only familiar and the other only nonfamiliar items. For each recognition task, half of the extracts (targets) were presented in the prior semantic task. The episodic and semantic tasks were to be contrasted by a comparison to two perceptive control tasks and to one another. Cerebral blood flow was assessed by means of the oxygen-15-labeled water injection method, using high-resolution PET. Distinct patterns of activations were found. First, regarding the episodic memory condition, bilateral activations of the middle and superior frontal gyri and precuneus (more prominent on the right side) were observed. Second, the semantic memory condition disclosed extensive activations in the medial and orbital frontal cortex bilaterally, the left angular gyrus, and predominantly the left anterior part of the middle temporal gyri. The findings from this study are discussed in light of the available neuropsychological data obtained in brain-damaged subjects and functional neuroimaging studies.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Music / psychology*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed