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MRI Study Unfolds Clues to Memory

TUESDAY Oct. 4, 2011 -- A common structural variation in the brain may explain why some people are better able to remember details of past events and to distinguish real events from those they were told about or may have imagined, scientists report.

The study included 53 healthy adults who underwent MRI brain scans and took memory tests. Participants who lacked a fold at the front of the brain called the paracingulate sulcus (PCS) were much less accurate on the memory tests than those with a prominent PCS on at least one side of the brain.

The PCS is one of the last structural brain folds to develop before birth, which is why there are great variations in PCS size, said the scientists at the University of Cambridge in England. PCS variation occurs in about half of the normal population.

The study appears in the Oct. 5 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"As all those who took part were healthy adult volunteers with typical educational backgrounds and no reported history of cognitive difficulties, the memory differences we observed were quite striking. It is exciting to think that these individual differences in ability might have a basis in a simple brain folding variation," research leader Dr. Jon Simons, of the experimental psychology department and the Behavior and Clinical Neurosciences Institute, said in a university news release.

"Additionally, this finding might tell us something about schizophrenia, in which hallucinations are often reported whereby, for example, someone hears a voice when nobody's there. Difficulty distinguishing real from imagined information might be an explanation for such hallucinations. For example, the person might imagine the voice but misattribute it as being real. PCS reductions have been reported in previous studies of schizophrenia, and our results are consistent with the idea that this structural variability might directly influence the functional capacity of surrounding brain areas and the cognitive abilities that they support," Simons said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians explains aging and memory.

Posted: October 2011


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