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The functional roles of prefrontal cortex in episodic memory. II. Retrieval.

P C Fletcher , T Shallice , C D Frith , R S Frackowiak , R J Dolan
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/121.7.1249 1249-1256 First published online: 1 July 1998


Functional neuroimaging studies of memory retrieval show consistent activation of the right prefrontal and superior parietal cortex. We examined the specific role of the prefrontal cortex during retrieval with the hypothesis that this region mediates monitoring processes necessary for optimal recall. During functional neuroimaging with PET, subjects retrieved verbal material under two conditions. In the first, an organizational structure had been provided, prior to scanning, and this formed the basis for a monitored memory search while the scan took place. A comparison condition did not require a monitored search because recall was externally cued. In both conditions, when compared with baseline tasks prefrontal cortex and medial parietal activation was observed. Within the right prefrontal cortex activation an anatomical dissociation was seen between the dorsal and ventral prefrontal cortex. The dorsal region showed greater activation when monitoring demands were emphasized, while the ventral region showed greater activation when external cueing was emphasized. An unpredicted dissociation within the superior parietal activation was also observed, a dorsal region showing activation during the monitored search task and a more ventral region showing activation under the externally cued condition. The results provide evidence for functional specialization of the right prefrontal cortex for discrete cognitive processes during episodic memory retrieval.