Emotional autobiographical memories in amnesic patients with medial temporal lobe damage

J Neurosci. 2005 Mar 23;25(12):3151-60. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4735-04.2005.


The recollection of emotional autobiographical memories has received little attention in patients with memory disorders. Here, we addressed this topic in amnesic patients with damage to the hippocampus (HC group; n = 8) or the hippocampus, amygdala, and surrounding cortices (HC+ group; n = 2). These patients were asked to recollect emotional events from their lives. HC patients produced recollections that were strikingly similar to those of brain-damaged (n = 10) and healthy (n = 25) comparison participants, in terms of both quantity and quality. In contrast, HC+ patients produced a lower proportion of unpleasant memories compared with the other participants. Specifically, the ratings and words used to describe recollections in the HC+ patients were more affectively positive. All groups produced more memories from between 10 and 30 years of age (the so-called autobiographical memory "bump") compared with other time periods in their lives. These results suggest that structures surrounding the hippocampus, but not the hippocampus itself, may be necessary for the recollection of highly emotional, unpleasant autobiographical memories. The amygdala and surrounding cortices of the medial temporal lobe may be a necessary component in the neural circuitry necessary for vivid recollection of unpleasant emotional events.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Amnesia / pathology*
  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology*