The role of the thalamic nuclei in recognition memory accompanied by recall during encoding and retrieval: An fMRI study

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Abstract

The present functional imaging study aimed at investigating the contribution of the mediodorsal nucleus and the anterior nuclei of the thalamus with their related cortical networks to recognition memory and recall.

Eighteen subjects performed associative picture encoding followed by a single item recognition test during the functional magnetic resonance imaging session. After scanning, subjects performed a cued recall test using the formerly recognized pictures as cues. This post-scanning test served to classify recognition trials according to subsequent recall performance.

In general, single item recognition accompanied by successful recall of the associations elicited stronger activation in the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus and in the prefrontal cortices both during encoding and retrieval compared to recognition without recall. In contrast, the anterior nuclei of the thalamus were selectively active during the retrieval phase of recognition followed by recall. A correlational analysis showed that activation of the anterior thalamus during retrieval as assessed by measuring the percent signal changes predicted lower rates of recognition without recall.

These findings show that the thalamus is critical for recognition accompanied by recall, and provide the first evidence of a functional segregation of the thalamic nuclei with respect to the memory retrieval phase. In particular, the mediodorsal thalamic-prefrontal cortical network is activated during successful encoding and retrieval of associations, which suggests a role of this system in recall and recollection. The activity of the anterior thalamic-temporal network selectively during retrieval predicts better memory performances across subjects and this confirms the paramount role of this network in recall and recollection.

Highlights

▸ Aim: functional parcellation of the thalamus during memory encoding and retrieval ▸ Task: associative learning and single item old/new test. Recall assessed post-scan ▸ Encoding: recall activated mediodorsal nucleus (MD) and prefrontal cortex (PFC) ▸ Retrieval: anterior nuclei (AT) activation predicted recall between-subjects ▸ Both MD and AT are involved in recall; AT activation is specific for retrieval

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