Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Autobiographical memory comprises episodic and semantic components mediated by dissociable states of consciousness, one promoting the experience of the self at a specific moment in the past, and the other involving self-knowledge that does not require “mental time travel.” These components can be difficult to dissociate using retrospective autobiographical stimuli collection. In this study, we manipulated the episodic/semantic distinction within prospectively collected autobiographical stimuli. Over several months, participants made recordings documenting specific episodes, repeated episodes, and world knowledge. These recordings were later played back to participants during scanning with functional MRI. The results indicated overlapping but distinct patterns of brain activity corresponding to episodic and semantic autobiographical memory. Both episodic and semantic autobiographical memory engaged the left anteromedial prefrontal cortex associated with self-reference, but the episodic condition did so to a greater degree. The episodic condition uniquely engaged the medial temporal, posterior cingulate, and diencephalic regions associated with remote memory recovery. Whereas the episodic condition engaged the right temporo-parietal cortex involved in reconstruction of spatial context and attentional orienting, the semantic condition engaged the left temporo-parietal and parieto-frontal systems involved in egocentric spatial processing and top-down attentional control. Episodic recollection was also associated with suppression of emotional paralimbic regions. These findings support a functional neuroanatomical dissociation between episodic and semantic autobiographical memory, providing concordance to amnesic syndromes with disproportionate impairment in one of these two forms of autobiographical memory.