Vascular thalamic amnesia: A reappraisal

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In humans lacunar infarcts in the mesial and anterior regions of the thalami are frequently associated with amnesic syndromes. In this review paper, we scrutinized 41 papers published between 1983 and 2009 that provided data on a total of 83 patients with the critical ischemic lesions (i.e. 17 patients with right-sided lesions, 25 with left-sided lesions and 41 with bilateral lesions). We aimed to find answers to the following questions concerning the vascular thalamic amnesia syndrome: (i) Which qualitative pattern of memory impairment (and associated cognitive and behavioral deficits) do these patients present? (ii) Which lesioned intrathalamic structures are primarily responsible for the amnesic syndrome? (iii) Are the recollection and familiarity components of declarative memory underlain by the same or by different thalamic structures? Results of the review indicate that, similar to patients with amnesic syndromes due to mesio-temporal lobe damage, patients with vascular thalamic amnesia display a prevalent deficit of declarative anterograde long-term memory, a less consistent deficit of declarative retrograde long-term memory and substantially spared short-term and implicit memory. Unlike mesio-temporal lobe patients, however, vascular thalamic amnesics often present dysexecutive and behavioral deficits similar to those observed in patients with frontal damage. The presence of an amnesic syndrome in patients with thalamic lacunar infarcts is strongly predicted by involvement of the mammillo-thalamic tract, which connects the anterior nuclei complex to the hippocampus proper via the fornix and the mammillary bodies. Finally, data reported in a few single cases provide support for the hypothesis that thalamic regions connected to distinct areas of the mesio-temporal lobe play differential roles in recollection and familiarity processes. The mammillo-thalamic tract/anterior nuclei axis seems primarily implicated in recollective processes, whereas the ventroamygdalofugal pathway/medio-dorsal axis primarily underlies familiarity processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-789
Number of pages13
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011


  • Amnesia
  • Executive functions
  • Familiarity
  • Recollection
  • Thalamus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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