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Visuoperceptual Learning in Alcoholic Korsakoff Syndrome

Authors

  • Rosemary Fama,

    1. Neuroscience Program, SRI International, Menlo Park, California
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  • Adolf Pfefferbaum,

    1. Neuroscience Program, SRI International, Menlo Park, California
    2. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Neuroscience Program, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California
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  • Edith V. Sullivan

    1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Neuroscience Program, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California
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  • This research was supported by Grants AA10723 and AA05965. A portion of this research was presented at the International Neuropsychological Society conference (1994, Cincinnati).

Reprint requests: Edith V. Sullivan, PhD. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine (MC5723), 401 Quarry Road, Stanford, CA 94305-5723; Fax: 650-859-2743; E-mail: edie@stanford.edu

Abstract

Relative to the characteristically profound deficits of explicit memory, components of implicit memory remain largely intact in patients with alcohol-induced Korsakoff syndrome (KS). Perceptual priming occurs in KS and transfer of learning has been consistently observed on mirror reading, a perceptual reversal task. Although priming also occurs with fragmented pictures, a perceptual closure task, it is unclear whether transfer of learning can occur. This study examined visuoperceptual learning in 4 men with alcoholic KS, 9 recently detoxified alcoholic men (ALC), 21 healthy age-matched normal control men (NC), and 6 young normal control men (YNC). Subjects were tested with the Gollin Incomplete Pictures Test at initial and 1-hour and 1-day retest sessions. Both alcoholic groups (KS, ALC) were impaired in visuoperceptual ability. All subject groups showed visuoperceptual learning. The KS group showed additional learning after continued exposure to the stimuli, despite their nonmnemonic visuospatial deficits and profound explicit memory impairment for the test stimuli. Transfer of learning to similar but new stimuli was not evident in either the KS or young healthy control subjects; learning occurred only for the specific items presented. The persistence of learning beyond the life of the percept, which was independent of declarative features (such as item recall), suggests that perceptual learning and memory reflects an intact cognitive memory process in KS. This process is likely mediated by posterior cortical networks relatively unaffected in KS and that are independent of the hippocampal–diencephalic declarative memory system.

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