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PET imaging of conscious and unconscious verbal memory

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One method for investigating the neurobiology of consciousness is to experimentally manipulate consciousness as a variable and then visualize the resultant functional brain changes with advanced imaging techniques. To begin investigation into this area, healthy volunteers underwent positron emission tomography scanning while listening to randomized word lists in both conscious and unconscious (i.e. anaesthetized) conditions. Following anaesthesia, subjects had no explicit memories. Nonetheless, subjects demonstrated implicit memory on a forced-choice test (different from chance; p 0.01). These subsequent memory scores were correlated with regional brain metabolism measured during encoding. Conscious recall and unconscious recognition memory demonstrated considerable anatomic overlap in correlating significantly with relative glucose metabolism in auditory verbal memory areas. However, only conscious recall correlated with mediodorsal thalamic nucleus activity; unconscious recognition memory did not. These findings suggest that conscious versus unconscious memory distinctions may depend on the presence or absence of correlated thalamic activity, and directly implicate the thalamus in the neurobiology of consciousness.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Anesthesiology, University of California, Irvine Medical Center, Route 81A, Bldg 53, 101 City Drive South, Orange, CA 92668, USA. Email: MAlkire@UCI.EDU

Publication date: 1996-05-01

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