Neural substrates of the self-memory system: new insights from a meta-analysis

Hum Brain Mapp. 2013 Jul;34(7):1515-29. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22008. Epub 2012 Feb 22.


The self has been the topic of philosophical inquiry for centuries. Neuropsychological data suggest that the declarative self can be fractionated into three functionally independent systems processing personal information at several levels of abstraction, including episodic memories of one's own life (episodic autobiographical memory, EAM), semantic knowledge of facts about one's own life (semantic autobiographical memory, SAM), and semantic summary representations of one's personal identity (conceptual self, CS). Our proposal here was to present a comprehensive description of the neural networks underpinning self-representations. To this aim, we performed three meta-analyses, one each for EAM, SAM, and CS, using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method. We expected a shift from posterior to anterior structures associated with the incrementally increasing level of abstraction of self-representations. The key finding was that EAM predominantly activates posterior and limbic regions including hippocampus. SAM is associated with anterior activations and also posterior and limbic activations in a lesser degree than EAM. CS mainly recruits medial prefrontal structures. Interestingly, medial prefrontal cortex is activated irrespective of the level of abstraction, but a more caudal part is recruited during CS, while SAM and EAM activate more rostral portions. To conclude, in line with the previous proposals, our results corroborate the idea that the declarative self is not monolithic but a multidimensional construct comprising distinct representations at different levels of abstraction.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Ego*
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging
  • PubMed / statistics & numerical data