Never forget a name: white matter connectivity predicts person memory
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Through learning and practice, we can acquire numerous skills, ranging from the simple (whistling) to the complex (memorizing operettas in a foreign language). It has been proposed that complex learning requires a network of brain regions that interact with one another via white matter pathways. One candidate white matter pathway, the uncinate fasciculus (UF), has exhibited mixed results for this hypothesis: some studies have shown UF involvement across a range of memory tasks, while other studies report null results. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the UF supports associative memory processes and that this tract can be parcellated into sub-tracts that support specific types of memory. Healthy young adults performed behavioral tasks (two face–name learning tasks, one word pair memory task) and underwent a diffusion-weighted imaging scan. Our results revealed that variation in UF microstructure was significantly associated with individual differences in performance on both face–name tasks, as well as the word association memory task. A UF sub-tract, functionally defined by its connectivity between face-selective regions in the anterior temporal lobe and orbitofrontal cortex, selectively predicted face–name learning. In contrast, connectivity between the fusiform face patch and both anterior face patches had no predictive validity. These findings suggest that there is a robust and replicable relationship between the UF and associative learning and memory. Moreover, this large white matter pathway can be subdivided to reveal discrete functional profiles.
KeywordsUncinate fasciculus White matter Diffusion imaging Faces Associative memory Orbitofrontal cortex Anterior temporal lobe
We would like to thank William Hampton and Linda Hoffman for assistance with participant testing. This work was supported by a National Institute of Health Grant to I. Olson (RO1 MH091113).
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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