The functional neuroanatomy of autobiographical memory: a meta-analysis

Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(12):2189-208. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.05.023. Epub 2006 Jun 27.


Autobiographical memory (AM) entails a complex set of operations, including episodic memory, self-reflection, emotion, visual imagery, attention, executive functions, and semantic processes. The heterogeneous nature of AM poses significant challenges in capturing its behavioral and neuroanatomical correlates. Investigators have recently turned their attention to the functional neuroanatomy of AM. We used the effect-location method of meta-analysis to analyze data from 24 functional imaging studies of AM. The results indicated a core neural network of left-lateralized regions, including the medial and ventrolateral prefrontal, medial and lateral temporal and retrosplenial/posterior cingulate cortices, the temporoparietal junction and the cerebellum. Secondary and tertiary regions, less frequently reported in imaging studies of AM, are also identified. We examined the neural correlates of putative component processes in AM, including, executive functions, self-reflection, episodic remembering and visuospatial processing. We also separately analyzed the effect of select variables on the AM network across individual studies, including memory age, qualitative factors (personal significance, level of detail and vividness), semantic and emotional content, and the effect of reference conditions. We found that memory age effects on medial temporal lobe structures may be modulated by qualitative aspects of memory. Studies using rest as a control task masked process-specific components of the AM neural network. Our findings support a neural distinction between episodic and semantic memory in AM. Finally, emotional events produced a shift in lateralization of the AM network with activation observed in emotion-centered regions and deactivation (or lack of activation) observed in regions associated with cognitive processes.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autobiographies as Topic*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuroanatomy*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / methods