Recent research has demonstrated the critical role of the feeling of familiarity in recognition memory. Various neuroimaging paradigms have been developed to identify the brain regions that sustain the processing of familiarity; however, there is still considerable controversy about the functional significance of each brain region implicated in familiarity-based retrieval. Here, we focused on the differences between paradigms that assess familiarity, with or without the encoding phase. We used the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) algorithm to conduct a whole-brain meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies that involved a familiarity task. Sixty-nine studies, performed in healthy subjects to determine the specific functions of the identified regions in familiarity processing, were finally selected. Distinct subanalyses were performed according to the experimental procedures used in the original studies. The ALE clusters that were highlighted revealed common activations for paradigms with and without encoding in the prefrontal cortex and in the parietal cortex. Additionally, supplementary activations related to specific familiarity (i.e., without the encoding phase) were observed in the limbic system (i.e., the amygdala, hippocampus, cingulate cortex, and insula) and in the associative sensory areas. The differences in the reported findings for different procedures are possibly due to differences in the concept of familiarity. To aid the exploration of the neural correlates of familiarity in future studies, the strengths and weaknesses of these experimental procedures are critically discussed.
Keywords: Familiarity; Limbic system; Meta-analysis; Parietal cortex; Prefrontal cortex; fMRI.