Medial temporal lobe activity for recognition of recent and remote famous names: an event-related fMRI study

Neuropsychologia. 2005;43(5):693-703. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2004.09.005.


Previous neuroimaging studies examining recognition of famous faces have identified activation of an extensive bilateral neural network [Gorno Tempini, M. L., Price, C. J., Josephs, O., Vandenberghe, R., Cappa, S. F., Kapur, N. et al. (1998). The neural systems sustaining face and proper-name processing. Brain, 121, 2103-2118], including the medial temporal lobe (MTL) and specifically the hippocampal complex [Haist, F., Bowden, G. J., & Mao, H. (2001). Consolidation of human memory over decades revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Nature Neuroscience, 4, 1139-1145; Leveroni, C. L., Seidenberg, M., Mayer, A. R., Mead, L. A., Binder, J. R., & Rao, S. M. (2000). Neural systems underlying the recognition of familiar and newly learned faces. Journal of Neuroscience, 20, 878-886]. One model of hippocampal functioning in autobiographical, episodic memory retrieval argues that the hippocampal complex remains active in retrieval tasks regardless of time or age of memory (multiple trace theory, MTT), whereas another proposal posits that the hippocampal complex plays a time-limited role in retrieval of autobiographical memories. The current event-related fMRI study focused on the medial temporal lobe and its response to recognition judgments of famous names from two distinct time epochs (1990s and 1950s) in 15 right-handed healthy older adults (mean age=70 years). A pilot study with an independent sample of young and older subjects ensured that the stimuli were representative of a recent and remote time period. Increased MR signal activity was observed on a bilateral basis for both the hippocampus and parahippocampal gyrus (PHG) during recognition of familiar names from both the recent and remote time periods when compared to non-famous names. However, the impulse response functions in the right hippocampus and right PHG demonstrated a differential response to stimuli from different time epochs, with the 1990s names showing the greatest MR signal intensity change, followed by the 1950s names, followed by foils. The finding that recognition of famous names produced significant bilateral MTL activation regardless of time epoch relative to foils provides support for the MTT model. However, the finding of a temporal gradient in the right MTL also provides support for the HC model, given the greater MTL response associated with recently famous names relative to remotely famous names.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Brain Mapping
  • Famous Persons*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Names*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / blood supply*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Oxygen