We previously demonstrated that episodic autobiographical memories (EAMs) rely on a network of brain regions comprising the medial temporal lobe (MTL) and distributed neocortical regions regardless of their remoteness. The findings supported the model of memory consolidation, which proposes a permanent role of MTL during EAM retrieval (multiple-trace theory or MTT) rather than a temporary role (standard model). Our present aim was to expand the results by examining the interactions between the MTL and neocortical regions (or MTL-neocortical links) during EAM retrieval with varying retention intervals. We used an experimental paradigm specially designed to engage aged participants in the recollection of EAMs, extracted from five different time-periods, covering their whole life-span, in order to examine correlations between activation in the MTL and neocortical regions. The nature of the memories was checked at debriefing by means of behavioral measures to control the degree of episodicity and properties of memories. Targeted correlational analyses carried out on the MTL, frontal, lateral temporal, and posterior regions revealed strong links between the MTL and neocortex during the retrieval of both recent and remote EAMs, challenging the standard model of memory consolidation and supporting MTT instead. Further confirmation was given by results showing that activation in the left and right hippocampi significantly correlated during the retrieval of both recent and remote memories. Correlations among extra-MTL neocortical regions also emerged for all time-periods, confirming the critical role of the prefrontal, temporal (lateral temporal cortex and temporal pole), precuneus, and posterior cingulate regions in EAM retrieval. Overall, this paper emphasizes the role of a bilateral network of MTL and neocortical areas whose activation correlate during the recollection of rich phenomenological recent and remote EAMs.
Copyright 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.