Human lesion data indicate that the basal forebrain or orbitofrontal cortex, or both, as well as medial temporal and diencephalic structures, is important for normal memory and that its disruption causes the pure amnesic syndrome, in which episodic memory is grossly impaired while other kinds of memory remain preserved. Among these critical areas, functional imaging studies have so far failed to detect activation of the basal forebrain, although activation in the nearby orbitofrontal cortex has been reported during episodic memory retrieval. We employed positron emission tomography to elucidate the neural basis of episodic memory recall utilizing two types of time cues and successfully detected activity in the basal forebrain for the first time. Specifically, recall of previously memorized words from temporal cues was associated with activity in the basal forebrain, right middle frontal gyrus, right superior temporal gyrus, and posterior cingulate gyrus, whereas their recall from person cues was associated with activity in the left insula, right middle frontal gyrus, and posterior cingulate gyrus. Furthermore, percentage increases of regional blood flow in the basal forebrain were correlated with behavioral data of successful recall. Our results provide clear evidence that the human basal forebrain has a specific role in episodic memory recall, especially that from time-contextual information.
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