We aimed at identifying the cerebral structures whose synaptic function subserves the recollection of lifetime's episodic autobiographical memory (AM) via autonoetic consciousness. Twelve healthy middle-aged subjects (mean age: 59 years +/- 2.5) underwent a specially designed cognitive test to assess the ability to relive richly detailed episodic autobiographical memories from five time periods using the Remember/Know procedure. We computed an index of episodicity (number of Remember responses justified by the recall of specific events and details) and an index of retrieval spontaneity, and additionally an index of semanticized memories (number of Know responses). The regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was measured in the resting state, with H(2)O(15) as part of an activation PET study. The indexes were correlated with blood flow using volumes of interest in frontotemporal regions, including hippocampus and voxel-wise analyses in SPM. With both analyses, significant correlations were mainly found between the index of episodicity and rCBF in the medial temporal lobe, including hippocampus, across the five time periods (unlike the index of semanticized memories) and between the spontaneity index and rCBF in the prefrontal areas. These results highlight, in healthy subjects, the distinct role of these two structures in AM retrieval and support the view that the hippocampus is needed for reexperiencing detailed episodic memories no matter how old they are.
2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.