Episodic, but not semantic, autobiographical memory is reduced in amnestic mild cognitive impairment

Neuropsychologia. 2008 Nov;46(13):3116-23. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.07.004. Epub 2008 Jul 12.


Amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) is characterized by decline in anterograde memory as measured by the ability to learn and remember new information. We investigated whether retrograde memory for autobiographical information was affected by aMCI. Eighteen control (age 66-84 years) and 17 aMCI (age 66-84 years) participants described a personal event from each of the five periods across the lifespan. These events were transcribed and scored according to procedures that separate episodic (specific happenings) from semantic (general knowledge) elements of autobiographical memory. Although both groups generated protocols of similar length, the composition of autobiographical recall differentiated the groups. The aMCI group protocols were characterized by reduced episodic and increased semantic information relative to the control group. Both groups showed a similar pattern of recall across time periods, with no evidence that the aMCI group had more difficulty recalling recent, rather than remote, life events. These results indicate that episodic and semantic autobiographical memories are differentially affected by the early brain changes associated with aMCI. Reduced autobiographical episodic memories in aMCI may be the result of medial temporal lobe dysfunction, consistent with multiple trace theory, or alternatively, could be related to dysfunction of a wider related network of neocortical structures. In contrast, the preservation of autobiographical semantic memories in aMCI suggests neural systems, such as lateral temporal cortex, that support these memories, may remain relatively intact.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Amnesia, Retrograde / etiology*
  • Anniversaries and Special Events
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition Disorders / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Semantics*