The effects of stimulus novelty and familiarity on neuronal activity in the amygdala of monkeys performing recognition memory tasks
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- Wilson, F.A.W. & Rolls, E.T. Exp Brain Res (1993) 93: 367. doi:10.1007/BF00229353
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The function of the amygdala in behavioural responses to novel stimuli and its possible function in recognition memory were investigated by recording the responses of 659 amygdaloid neurons in monkeys performing recognition memory and visual discrimination tasks. The aim was to determine the contribution of the amygdala in the encoding of familiarity and therefore its role in supporting memory-related neuronal mechanisms in the basal forebrain. The responses of three groups of neurons reflected different forms of memory. One group (n= 10) responded maximally to novel stimuli and significantly less so to the same stimuli when they were familiar. The calculated memory spans of these neurons were in the range of 2–10 intervening trials, and this shortterm retention of information may reflect the operation of a neural mechanism encoding memory for the recency of stimulus presentation. Two other groups responded to the sight of particular categories of familiar stimuli: to foods (n = 6) or to faces (n = 10). The responses of some of these stimulus-selective neurons declined with repeated presentations of foods (3/4 tests) and faces (2/6 tests). The activity of these latter two groups of neurons may be involved in behavioural responses to familiar visual stimuli, particularly when such stimuli have affective or motivational significance. We conclude that the neurophysiological data provide evidence of amygdaloid mechanisms for the recognition of recently seen visual stimuli. However, these amygdaloid mechanisms do not appear to be sufficient to support the performance of long-term recognition memory tasks without additional and complementary functions carried out by other ventromedial temporal, prefrontal and diencephalic structures which also project to the basal forebrain.