Anterograde Episodic Memory in Korsakoff Syndrome
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A profound anterograde memory deficit for information, regardless of the nature of the material, is the hallmark of Korsakoff syndrome, an amnesic condition resulting from severe thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Since the late nineteenth century when the Russian physician, S. S. Korsakoff, initially described this syndrome associated with “polyneuropathy,” the observed global amnesia has been a primary focus of neuroscience and neuropsychology. In this review we highlight the historical studies that examined anterograde episodic memory processes in KS, present a timeline and evidence supporting the myriad theories proffered to account for this memory dysfunction, and summarize what is known about the neuroanatomical correlates and neural systems presumed affected in KS. Rigorous study of KS amnesia and associated memory disorders of other etiologies provide evidence for distinct mnemonic component processes and neural networks imperative for normal declarative and nondeclarative memory abilities and for mnemonic processes spared in KS, from whence emerged the appreciation that memory is not a unitary function. Debate continues regarding the qualitative and quantitative differences between KS and other amnesias and what brain regions and neural pathways are necessary and sufficient to produce KS amnesia.