Functional Neuroanatomy of Recall and Recognition: A PET Study of Episodic Memory

J Cogn Neurosci. 1997 Mar;9(2):254-65. doi: 10.1162/jocn.1997.9.2.254.


The purpose of this study was to directly compare the brain regions involved in episodic-memory recall and recognition. Changes in regional cerebral blood flow were measured by positron emission tomography while young healthy test persons were either recognizing or recalling previously studied word pairs. Reading of previously nonstudied pairs served as a reference task for subtractive comparisons. Compared to reading, both recall and recognition were associated with higher blood flow (activation) at identical sites in the right prefrontal cortex (areas 47, 45, and 10) and the anterior cingulate. Compared to recognition, recall was associated with higher activation in the anterior cingulate, globus pallidus, thalamus, and cerebellum, suggesting that these components of the cerebello-frontal pathway play a role in recall processes that they do not in recognition. Compared to recall, recognition was associated with higher activation in the right inferior parietal cortex (areas 39, 40, and 19), suggesting a larger perceptual component in recognition than in recall. Contrary to the expectations based on lesion data, the activations of the frontal regions were indistinguishable in recall and recognition. This finding is consistent with the notion that frontal activations in explicit memory tasks are related to the general episodic retrieval mode or retrieval attempt, rather than to specific mechanisms of ecphory (recovery of stored information).