Brain activation in highly superior autobiographical memory: the role of the precuneus in the autobiographical memory retrieval network

Giuliana Mazzoni, Andrew Clark, Adriana De Bartolo, Chiara Guerrini, Zacharia Nahouli, Davide Duzzi, Matteo De Marco, William McGeown, Annalena Venneri

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This is the first study to examine functional brain activation in a single case of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) who shows no sign of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). While previous work has documented the existence of HSAM, information about brain areas involved in this exceptional form of memory for personal events relies on structural and resting state connectivity data, with mixed results so far. In this first task-based functional magnetic resonance Imaging (fMRI) study of a normal individual with HSAM, dates were presented as cues and two phases were assessed during memory retrieval, initial access and later elaboration. Results showed that initial access was very fast, did not activate the hippocampus, and involved activation of predominantly posterior visual areas, including the precuneus. These areas typically become active during later stages of elaboration of personal memories rather than during initial access. Elaboration involved a balanced bilateral activation of most of the autobiographical network areas, rather than the more typical shifts observed in people without HSAM. Overall, the pattern of brain activations, which rests on repeated observations in a single individual, highlights a strong involvement of the precuneus and an idiosyncratic initial access to personal memory representations. Implications for the nature of personal memories in HSAM are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)588-602
Number of pages15
Early online date5 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • autobiographical memory network
  • Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM)
  • brain imaging
  • praecuneus

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