The time-scale of medial temporal lobe (MTL) involvement in storage and retrieval of episodic memory is keenly debated. To test competitive theories of long-term memory consolidation, the present work aimed at characterizing which cerebral regions are involved during retrieval of recent and remote strictly episodic autobiographical memory. Using positron emission tomography (PET), we examined mental retrieval of recent (0-1 year) and remote (5-10 years) autobiographical memories, controlling for the nature of the autobiographical memories (i.e., specificity, state of consciousness, vividness of mental visual imagery, emotion) retrieved during scanning by behavioral measures assessed at debriefing for each event recalled. Cognitive results showed that specificity and emotion did not change with time interval although both autonoetic consciousness and mental image quality were significantly higher for recent memories, suggesting an underlying shift in the phenomenal experience of remembering with the passage of time. The SPM analysis revealed common activations during the recollection of recent and remote memories that involved a widespread but mainly left-sided cerebral network, consistent with previous studies. Subtraction analysis demonstrated that the retrieval of recent (relative to remote) autobiographical memories principally activated the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex whereas the retrieval of remote (relative to recent) autobiographical memories activated the inferior parietal cortex bilaterally. ROIs analysis revealed more hippocampal activity for remote memories than for recent ones and a preferentially right-sided involvement of the hippocampal responses whatever the remoteness of autobiographical memories. New insights based on higher hippocampal response to the remoteness of episodic autobiographical memories challenge the standard model and are less discrepant with the multiple trace theory.
Copyright 2004 Elsevier Inc.