Can we remember future actions yet forget the last two minutes? Study in transient global amnesia

J Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Dec;23(12):4138-49. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00076. Epub 2011 Jun 14.


Transient global amnesia (TGA) is a clinical syndrome characterized by the abrupt onset of a massive episodic memory deficit that spares other cognitive functions. If the anterograde dimension is known to be impaired in TGA, researchers have yet to investigate prospective memory (PM)--which involves remembering to perform an intended action at some point in the future--in this syndrome. Furthermore, as executive functions are thought to be spared in this syndrome, TGA provides an opportunity to examine the impact of a massive "pure" memory impairment on PM. We assessed 38 patients with a newly designed protocol that distinguished between the prospective (remembering to do something at the appropriate time) and retrospective (remembering what has to be done) components of PM. Moreover, we investigated episodic memory with an anterograde memory task and assessed executive functions, anxiety and mood, as well as their links with PM. We demonstrated that PM is impaired during TGA, with a greater deficit for the retrospective component than for the prospective component. Furthermore, we highlighted a strong link between these two components. Anterograde episodic memory impairments were correlated with retrospective component deficits in TGA patients, although we were able to confirm that executive functions are globally spared. We discuss this pattern of results within the theoretical framework of PM, putting forward new arguments in favor of the idea that PM deficits can occur mainly because of a massive anterograde memory deficit. The clinical consequences of PM impairment in TGA are examined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amnesia, Transient Global / diagnosis
  • Amnesia, Transient Global / physiopathology*
  • Amnesia, Transient Global / psychology
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors