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Functional independence within the self-memory system: new insights from two cases of developmental amnesia.
Publication types: Journal Article
Neuropsychological and neuroimaging data suggest that the self-memory system can be fractionated into three functionally independent systems processing personal information at several levels of abstraction, including episodic memories of one's life (episodic autobiographical memory, EAM), semantic knowledge of facts about one's life (semantic autobiographical memory, SAM), and semantic knowledge of one's personality [conceptual self, (CS)]. Through the study of two developmental amnesic patients suffering of neonatal brain injuries, we explored how the different facets of the self-memory system develop when growing up with bilateral hippocampal atrophy. Neuropsychological evaluations showed that both of them suffered from dramatic episodic learning disability with no sense of recollection (Remember/Know procedure), whereas their semantic abilities differed, being completely preserved (Valentine) or not (Jocelyn). Magnetic resonance imaging, including quantitative volumetric measurements of the hippocampus and adjacent (entorhinal, perirhinal, and temporopolar) cortex, showed severe bilateral atrophy of the hippocampus in both patients, with additional atrophy of adjacent cortex in Jocelyn. Exploration of EAM and SAM according to lifetime periods covering the entire lifespan (TEMPAu task, Piolino et al., 2009) showed that both patients had marked impairments in EAM, as they lacked specificity, details and sense of recollection, whereas SAM was completely normal in Valentine, but impaired in Jocelyn. Finally, measures of patients' CS (Tennessee Self-Concept Scale, Fitts and Warren, 1996), checked by their mothers, were generally within normal range, but both patients showed a more positive self-concept than healthy controls. These two new cases support a modular account of the medial-temporal lobe with episodic memory and recollection depending on the hippocampus, and semantic memory and familiarity on adjacent cortices. Furthermore, they highlight developmental episodic and semantic functional independence within the self-memory system suggesting that SAM and CS may be acquired without episodic memories.
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