Recollective qualities modulate hippocampal activation during autobiographical memory retrieval

Hippocampus. 2004;14(6):752-62. doi: 10.1002/hipo.10215.


Recent neuroimaging studies report preferential hippocampal engagement during autobiographical memory (AM) retrieval. Although the basis of this preferential activation remains unclear, it may be related to the temporal specificity, recency, or recollective qualities of AMs, such as detail, emotionality, and personal significance. Typically, however, these variables are confounded, and thus we sought to investigate the contributions of each to hippocampal activation during AM retrieval. We conducted an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study in which participants retrieved temporally specific AMs and general, repeated AMs, and rated each for level of detail, emotion, or personal significance. These ratings, as well as the recency of AMs, were used in parametric modulation analyses to identify brain regions that correlated positively with ratings, independent of recency, and vice versa. Retrieval of AMs activated a number of regions, including the hippocampus. No differences in hippocampal activation were evident between specific and general AM retrieval, suggesting that temporal specificity, on its own, is not a key modulator of hippocampal activation. Activation of the left hippocampus during specific AM retrieval did vary with the level of detail, personal significance, and at a subthreshold level, emotionality, when the effect of recency was covaried out. Further, during general AM retrieval, all three recollective qualities modulated activity in the right hippocampus. Although the recency of specific AMs modulated hippocampal activation bilaterally, this effect dissipated in the left hippocampus when detail or emotionality was included as a covariate, and was no longer present in either hippocampus when personal significance was taken into account. Our results suggest that recollective qualities are important predictors of hippocampal engagement during AM retrieval independent of factors such as recency. These findings are consistent with theories of hippocampal function that emphasize its role in the recollection of multifaceted autobiographical experiences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Perception / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology