Autobiographical Memory and Patterns of Brain Atrophy in Fronto-temporal Lobar Degeneration
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Autobiographical memory paradigms have been increasingly used to study the behavioral and neuroanatomical correlates of human remote memory. Although there are numerous functional neuroimaging studies on this topic, relatively few studies of patient samples exist, with heterogeneity of results owing to methodological variability. In this study, fronto-temporal lobar degeneration (FTLD), a form of dementia affecting regions crucial to autobiographical memory, was used as a model of autobiographical memory loss. We emphasized the separation of episodic (recollection of specific event, perceptual, and mental state information) from semantic (factual information unspecific in time and place) autobiographical memory, derived from a reliable method for scoring transcribed autobiographical protocols, the Autobiographical Interview [Levine, B., Svoboda, E., Hay, J., Winocur, G., & Moscovitch, M. Aging and autobiographical memory: Dissociating episodic from semantic retrieval. Psychology and Aging, 17, 677-689, 2002]. Patients with the fronto-temporal dementia (FTD) and mixed fronto-temporal and semantic dementia (FTD/SD) variants of FTLD were impaired at reconstructing episodically rich autobiographical memories across the lifespan, with FTD/SD patients generating an excess of generic semantic autobiographical information. Patients with progressive nonfluent aphasia were mildly impaired for episodic autobiographical memory, but this impairment was eliminated with the provision of structured cueing, likely reflecting relatively intact medial-temporal lobe function, whereas the same cueing failed to bolster the FTD and FTD/SD patients' performance relative to that of matched comparison subjects. The pattern of episodic, but not semantic, autobiographical impairment was enhanced with disease progression on 1- to 2-year follow-up testing in a subset of patients, supplementing the cross-sectional evidence for specificity of episodic autobiographical impairment with longitudinal data. This behavioral pattern covaried with volume loss in a distributed left-lateralized posterior network centered on the temporal lobe, consistent with evidence from other patient and functional neuroimaging studies of autobiographical memory. Frontal lobe volumes, however, did not significantly contribute to this network, suggesting that frontal contributions to autobiographical episodic memory may be more complex than previously appreciated.
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