fMRI evidence of equivalent neural suppression by repetition and prior knowledge

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Stimulus repetition speeds behavioral responding (behavioral priming) and is accompanied by suppressed neural responses (repetition suppression; RS) that have been observed up to three days after initial exposure. While some proposals have suggested the two phenomena are linked, behavioral priming has been observed many years after initial exposure, whereas RS is widely considered a transitory phenomenon. This raises the question: what is the true upper limit of RS persistence? To answer this question, we scanned healthy, English-native adults with fMRI as they viewed novel (Asian) proverbs, recently repeated (Asian) proverbs, and previously known (English) proverbs that were matched on various dimensions. We then estimated RS by comparing repeated or previously known proverbs against novel ones. Multivariate analyses linked previously known and repeated proverbs with statistically indistinguishable RS in a broad visual-linguistic network. In each suppressed region, prior knowledge and repetition also induced a common shift in functional connectivity, further underscoring the similarity of the RS phenomenon induced by these conditions. By contrast, activated regions readily distinguished prior knowledge and repetition conditions in a manner consistent with engagement of semantic and episodic memory systems, respectively. Our results illustrate that regardless of whether RS is understood in terms of its magnitude, spatial extent or functional connectivity profile, typical RS effects can be elicited even under conditions where recently triggered biological processes or episodic memory are unlikely to play a prominent role. These results provide important new evidence that RS (of the kind observed after an interval of at least several minutes) reflects the facilitation of perceptual and comprehension processes by any type of information retrieved from long-term memory.

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