Acetylcholine facilitates recovery of episodic memory after brain damage

J Neurosci. 2012 Oct 3;32(40):13787-95. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2947-12.2012.


Episodic memory depends on a network of interconnected brain structures including the inferior temporal cortex, hippocampus, fornix, and mammillary bodies. We have previously shown that a moderate episodic memory impairment in monkeys with transection of the fornix is exacerbated by prior depletion of acetylcholine from inferotemporal cortex, despite the fact that depletion of acetylcholine from inferotemporal cortex on its own has no effect on episodic memory. Here we show that this effect occurs because inferotemporal acetylcholine facilitates recovery of function following structural damage within the neural circuit for episodic memory. Episodic memory impairment caused by lesions of the mammillary bodies, like fornix transection, was exacerbated by prior removal of temporal cortical acetylcholine. However, removing temporal cortical acetylcholine after the lesion of the fornix or mammillary bodies did not increase the severity of the impairment. This lesion order effect suggests that acetylcholine within the inferior temporal cortex ordinarily facilitates functional recovery after structural lesions that impair episodic memory. In the absence of acetylcholine innervation to inferotemporal cortex, this recovery is impaired and the amnesia caused by the structural lesion is more severe. These results suggest that humans with loss of cortical acetylcholine function, for example in Alzheimer's disease, may be less able to adapt to memory impairments caused by structural neuronal damage to areas in the network important for episodic memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / deficiency
  • Acetylcholine / physiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Amnesia / etiology
  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Amnesia / rehabilitation
  • Animals
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / complications*
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / psychology
  • Cholinergic Fibers / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fornix, Brain / injuries*
  • Fornix, Brain / physiology
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Mammillary Bodies / injuries*
  • Mammillary Bodies / physiopathology
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reward
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*


  • Acetylcholine