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Keywords:

  • episodic memory;
  • nucleus accumbens;
  • posterior cingulate cortex;
  • recall-to-reject;
  • retrieval;
  • retrosplenial cortex

Abstract

In this event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study we examined the neuronal correlates of the subprocesses underlying recognition memory. In an explicit memory task, participants had to discriminate studied (‘old’) words from semantically related and unrelated ‘new’ (unstudied) words. We examined whether the correct rejection of semantically related words which were similar to old words, which had elicited correct responses, was based on conscious recollection of study phase information. In this task, false-positive responses to semantically related new words can be assumed to result from the assessment of the semantic similarity between test words and studied words with minimal recollection. For correct identification of old words and correct rejection of new related words we found common activation in a variety of brain areas that have been shown to be involved in conscious recollection, among them the left middle frontal gyrus, the precuneus, the retrosplenial cortex, the left parahippocampal gyrus and the thalamus. For correct responses to old words, the frontomedian wall, the posterior cingulate cortex and the nucleus accumbens were additionally activated, suggesting an emotional contribution to these judgements. Correct rejections of related new words were associated with additional activation of the right middle frontal gyrus, suggesting higher monitoring demands for these more difficult recognition judgements. False-positive responses to semantically related new words were associated with enhanced activation in the frontomedian wall. The results point to an important role of the prefrontal cortex as well as medial temporal and medial parietal regions of the brain in successful memory retrieval and conscious recollection.