Enhanced brain activity associated with memory access in highly superior autobiographical memory

Valerio Santangelo, Clarissa Cavallina, Paola Colucci, Alessia Santori, Simone Macrì, James L. McGaugh, Patrizia Campolongo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7795-7800
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number30
Publication statusPublished - Jul 24 2018


  • fMRI
  • Functional connectivity
  • Hippocampus
  • Long-term memory
  • Prefrontal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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