Memory consolidation and the hippocampus: further evidence from studies of autobiographical memory in semantic dementia and frontal variant frontotemporal dementia.


Studies of autobiographical memory in semantic dementia have found relative preservation of memories for recent rather than remote events. As semantic dementia is associated with progressive atrophy to temporal neocortex, with early asymmetric sparing of the hippocampus, this neuropsychological pattern suggests that the hippocampal complex plays a role in the acquisition and retrieval of recent memories, but is not necessary for the recall of older episodic events. In an alternative view of memory consolidation, however, the hippocampus plays a role in the retrieval of all autobiographical memories, regardless of the age of the memory [Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 7(1997)217]. This 'multiple trace theory' predicts that patients with semantic dementia should show no effects of time in their autobiographical recall. In this article, we ask whether it is possible to reconcile the data from semantic dementia with the multiple trace theory by investigating whether the time-dependent pattern of autobiographical retrieval seen in the disease is due to (i) patients showing this effect being exceptional in their presentation; and/or (ii) patients with semantic dementia exhibiting impaired strategic retrieval from concomitant frontal damage. A series of experiments in patients with semantic dementia, the frontal variant of frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease clearly demonstrates that neither of these two factors can explain the documented effect of time seen in semantic dementia. Nonetheless, we discuss how damage to semantic knowledge could result in an autobiographical memory deficit and suggest that data from semantic dementia may be consistent with both views of hippocampal involvement in long-term memory.