Recent research has identified human subjects who have highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). Here, we investigated, using fMRI, the neural activation induced by retrieval of autobiographical memories (AMs) and semantic memories (SMs) in subjects with HSAM and control subjects. While their brains were being scanned, subjects had to retrieve AMs as well as SMs (e.g., examples of animals). The subjects with HSAM displayed a superior ability to retrieve details of AMs, supported by enhanced activation of several brain regions, including the medial prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction, as well as increased connectivity of the prefrontal cortex with the hippocampus, a region well known to be involved in memory representation. These findings suggest that activation of these systems may play a critical role in enabling HSAM.Abstract
Brain systems underlying human memory function have been classically investigated studying patients with selective memory impairments. The discovery of rare individuals who have highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM) provides, instead, an opportunity to investigate the brain systems underlying enhanced memory. Here, we carried out an fMRI investigation of a group of subjects identified as having HSAM. During fMRI scanning, eight subjects with HSAM and 21 control subjects were asked to retrieve autobiographical memories (AMs) as well as non-AMs (e.g., examples of animals). Subjects were instructed to signal the “access” to an AM by a key press and to continue “reliving” it immediately after. Compared with controls, individuals with HSAM provided a richer AM recollection and were faster in accessing AMs. The access to AMs was associated with enhanced prefrontal/hippocampal functional connectivity. AM access also induced increased activity in the left temporoparietal junction and enhanced functional coupling with sensory cortices in subjects with HSAM compared with controls. In contrast, subjects with HSAM did not differ from controls in functional activity during the reliving phase. These findings, based on fMRI assessment, provide evidence of interaction of brain systems engaged in memory retrieval and suggest that enhanced activity of these systems is selectively involved in enabling more efficient access to past experiences in HSAM.