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Differential medial temporal lobe morphometric predictors of item‐ and relational‐encoded memories in healthy individuals and in individuals with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease


INTRODUCTION:Episodic memory processes are supported by different subregions of the medial temporal lobe (MTL). In contrast to a unitary model of memory recognition supported solely by the hippocampus, a current model suggests that item encoding engages perirhinal cortex, whereas relational encoding engages parahippocampal cortex and the hippocampus. However, this model has not been examined in the context of aging, neurodegeneration, and MTL morphometrics. METHODS:Forty-four healthy subjects (HSs) and 18 cognitively impaired subjects (nine mild cognitive impairment [MCI] and nine Alzheimer's disease [AD] patients) were assessed with the relational and item-specific encoding task (RISE) and underwent 3T magnetic resonance imaging. The RISE assessed the differential contribution of relational and item-specific memory. FreeSurfer was used to obtain measures of cortical thickness of MTL regions and hippocampus volume. RESULTS:Memory accuracies for both item and relational memory were significantly better in the HS group than in the MCI/AD group. In MCI/AD group, relational memory was disproportionately impaired. In HSs, hierarchical regressions demonstrated that memory was predicted by perirhinal thickness after item encoding, and by hippocampus volume after relational encoding (both at trend level) and significantly by parahippocampal thickness at associative recognition. The same brain morphometry profiles predicted memory accuracy in MCI/AD, although more robustly perirhinal thickness for item encoding (R2 = 0.31) and hippocampal volume and parahippocampal thickness for relational encoding (R2 = 0.31). DISCUSSION:Our results supported a model of episodic memory in which item-specific encoding was associated with greater perirhinal cortical thickness, while relational encoding was associated with parahippocampal thickness and hippocampus volume. We identified these relationships not only in HSs but also in individuals with MCI and AD. In the subjects with cognitive impairment, reductions in hippocampal volume and impairments in relational memory were especially prominent.

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