Impairment in material-specific long-term memory following unilateral mediodorsal thalamic damage and presumed partial disconnection of the mammillo-thalamic tract


Dr Nicola M. J. Edelstyn, School of Psychology, University of Keele, Keele, Staffordshire ST5, 5BG, UK (e-mail:


Neuropsychological findings suggest material-specific lateralization of the medial temporal lobe's role in long-term memory, with greater left-sided involvement in verbal memory, and greater right-sided involvement in visual memory. Whether material-specific lateralization of long-term memory also extends to the anteromedial thalamus remains uncertain. We report two patients with unilateral right (OG) and left (SM) mediodorsal thalamic pathology plus probable correspondingly lateralized damage of the mammillo-thalamic tract. The lesions were mapped using high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging and schematically reconstructed. Mean absolute volume estimates for the mammillary bodies, hippocampus, perirhinal cortex, and ventricles are also presented. Estimates of visual and verbal recall and item recognition memory were obtained using the Doors and People, the Rey Complex Figure Test, and the Logical Memory subtests of the Wechsler Memory Scales. Each patient's performance was compared to a group of healthy volunteers matched for demographic characteristics, premorbid IQ, and current levels of functioning. A striking double dissociation was evident in material-specific long-term memory, with OG showing significant impairments in visual memory but not verbal memory, and SM showing the opposite profile of preserved visual memory and significantly impaired verbal memory. These impairments affected both recall and item recognition. The reported double dissociation provides the strongest evidence yet that material-specific lateralization of long-term memory also extends to the anteromedial thalamus. The findings are also discussed in relation to proposals that distinct anatomical regions within the medial temporal lobe, anteromedial thalamus, and associated tracts make qualitatively different contributions to recall and item recognition.