A role for the thalamus in memory for unique entities

Laurie A. Miller, Diana Caine, John D G Watson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Recent case studies of amnesic patients have yielded patterns of impairment that challenge Tulving's (1972) division of retrograde memory into two categories (namely, episodic and semantic memory). Here we describe a patient (JG) who developed partially blocked access to previously stored knowledge following the onset of a medial thalamic infarction. Having previously demonstrated that JG has a dense, pervasive amnesia for autobiographical material, famous people and famous events (Miller et al., 2001), in this study, we show that he is unable to access information about unique entities across a range of domains. In contrast, his memory for more general semantic knowledge (such as word meanings) is intact. JG's memory impairment is discussed in the context of a model of neural functioning put forward by Damasio (1990), in which it was proposed that recall of unique entities depends on many cortical regions being activated in synchrony. This activity, thought to be triggered and coordinated by anterior temporal and frontal lobe regions is, in turn, modulated by projections from the thalamus. We propose that JG's thalamic lesion has disrupted the coordination of the diffuse cortical networks necessary to generate highly specific memories from the past, be they episodic or semantic.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)504-514
    Number of pages10
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003


    • Autobiographical memory
    • Famous buildings
    • Famous event memory
    • Famous faces
    • Famous names
    • Famous songs
    • Geographical knowledge
    • Memory for unique entities
    • Movie memory
    • Public knowledge
    • Recognition of environmental sounds
    • Retrograde amnesia
    • Semantic knowledge
    • Thalamus


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