Scene construction in developmental amnesia: an fMRI study

Neuropsychologia. 2014 Jan;52:1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.11.001. Epub 2013 Nov 11.


Amnesic patients with bilateral hippocampal damage sustained in adulthood are generally unable to construct scenes in their imagination. By contrast, patients with developmental amnesia (DA), where hippocampal damage was acquired early in life, have preserved performance on this task, although the reason for this sparing is unclear. One possibility is that residual function in remnant hippocampal tissue is sufficient to support basic scene construction in DA. Such a situation was found in the one amnesic patient with adult-acquired hippocampal damage (P01) who could also construct scenes. Alternatively, DA patients' scene construction might not depend on the hippocampus, perhaps being instead reliant on non-hippocampal regions and mediated by semantic knowledge. To adjudicate between these two possibilities, we examined scene construction during functional MRI (fMRI) in Jon, a well-characterised patient with DA who has previously been shown to have preserved scene construction. We found that when Jon constructed scenes he activated many of the regions known to be associated with imagining scenes in control participants including ventromedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate, retrosplenial and posterior parietal cortices. Critically, however, activity was not increased in Jon's remnant hippocampal tissue. Direct comparisons with a group of control participants and patient P01, confirmed that they activated their right hippocampus more than Jon. Our results show that a type of non-hippocampal dependent scene construction is possible and occurs in DA, perhaps mediated by semantic memory, which does not appear to involve the vivid visualisation of imagined scenes.

Keywords: Amnesia; Episodic memory; Future-thinking; Hippocampus; Scene construction; Semantic memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amnesia / pathology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hippocampus / blood supply*
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen