Structure and function in acquired prosopagnosia: lessons from a series of 10 patients with brain damage

J Neuropsychol. 2008 Mar;2(1):197-225. doi: 10.1348/174866407x214172.


Acquired prosopagnosia varies in both behavioural manifestations and the location and extent of underlying lesions. We studied 10 patients with adult-onset lesions on a battery of face-processing tests. Using signal detection methods, we found that discriminative power for the familiarity of famous faces was most reduced by bilateral occipitotemporal lesions that involved the fusiform gyri, and better preserved with unilateral right-sided lesions. Tests of perception of facial structural configuration showed severe deficits with lesions that included the right fusiform gyrus, whether unilateral or bilateral. This deficit was most consistent for eye configuration, with some patients performing normally for mouth configuration. Patients with anterior temporal lesions had better configuration perception, though at least one patient showed a more subtle failure to integrate configural data from different facial regions. Facial imagery, an index of facial memories, was severely impaired by bilateral lesions that included the right anterior temporal lobe and marginally impaired by fusiform lesions alone; unilateral right fusiform lesions tended to spare imagery for facial features. These findings suggest that (I) prosopagnosia is more severe with bilateral than unilateral lesions, indicating a minor contribution of the left hemisphere to face recognition, (2) perception of facial configuration critically involves the right fusiform gyrus and (3) access to facial memories is most disrupted by bilateral lesions that also include the right anterior temporal lobe. This supports assertions that more apperceptive variants of prosopagnosia are linked to fusiform damage, whereas more associative variants are linked to anterior temporal damage. Next, we found that behavioural indices of covert recognition correlated with measures of overt familiarity, consistent with theories that covert behaviour emerges from the output of damaged neural networks, rather than alternative pathways. Finally, to probe the face specificity of the prosopagnosic defect, we tested recognition of fruits and vegetables: While face specificity was not found in most of our patients, the data of one patient suggested that this may be possible with more focal lesions of the right fusiform gyrus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic
  • Adult
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / complications
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / pathology*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology*
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / complications
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / pathology
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / psychology
  • Cerebral Infarction / complications
  • Cerebral Infarction / pathology
  • Cerebral Infarction / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Encephalitis, Viral / complications
  • Encephalitis, Viral / pathology
  • Encephalitis, Viral / psychology
  • Epilepsy, Complex Partial / surgery
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Head Injuries, Closed / complications
  • Head Injuries, Closed / pathology
  • Head Injuries, Closed / psychology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / adverse effects
  • Occipital Lobe / pathology
  • Prosopagnosia / etiology
  • Prosopagnosia / pathology*
  • Prosopagnosia / psychology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Stroke / complications
  • Stroke / pathology
  • Stroke / psychology
  • Temporal Lobe / pathology
  • Wounds, Gunshot / complications
  • Wounds, Gunshot / pathology
  • Wounds, Gunshot / psychology