Neuroscience

In Touch with Reality

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Science  11 Aug 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5481, pp. 835
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5481.835a

It is by now well established that the medial temporal lobe of the human brain, encompassing such important structures as the hippocampus, is crucially involved in the storage of new information. Less is known, however, about the appropriate retrieval of stored memories. In spontaneously confabulatory patients—people who have an inability to distinguish between memories relating to ongoing reality and memories that are no longer relevant—behavioral deficits are correlated with lesions in the anterior limbic and paralimbic areas of the brain.

In a brain imaging study, Schnider et al. presented a group of healthy subjects with a task that required the selection of currently relevant memories. Their data indicate that the anterior limbic system, particularly the medial orbitofrontal cortex, monitors reality and also suppresses memory traces and mental associations that have no current behavioral relevance. This mechanism would allow for the free flow of mental associations while at the same time ensuring that our actions are grounded in the present. — PRS

J. Neurosci. 20, 5880 (2000).

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