Exploring the roles of the executive and short-term feature-binding functions in retrieval of retrograde autobiographical memories in severe traumatic brain injury

Cécile Coste, Nathalie Agar, Elise Petitfour, Peggy Quinette, Bérengère Guillery-Girard, Philippe Azouvi, Pascale Piolino
Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior 2011, 47 (7): 771-86
Conway's autobiographical memory (AM) model postulates that memories are not stored in a crystallised form in long-term memory but are reconstructed at time of retrieval via executive and binding processes, to create a temporary multimodal representation from different AM knowledge. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) impairs AM recollection. However, no study has yet considered the distinct roles of executive and short-term feature-binding functions in the retrieval deficits of retrograde AMs after TBI. Examining a group of 33 TBI patients and 33 controls, our study addresses these roles through a first-ever exploration of the links between performance on an AM verbal fluency evaluation that distinguishes four levels of representation, from semantic to episodic (lifetime periods, general events, specific events, specific details of a specific event), and three executive functions (shifting, inhibition and updating) and two short-term feature-binding functions (short-term formation and maintenance of multimodal representations). The results showed that TBI patients were impaired compared to controls in the retrieval of both semantic and episodic retrograde AM representations, but especially for the most episodic level of AM, in the three executive functions and the short-term maintenance of multimodal representations. Regression analyses indicated that the executive predictors (mainly updating) mediated a large proportion (over 70%) of TBI-related deficit on the retrieval of lifetime periods, general events and specific events, in contrast with the main impairment on generation of specific details which were only mildly (just 12%) predicted by the short-term maintenance of multimodal representations. Additional analyses in a subgroup of patients point to episodic memory abilities and time since injury in predicting the retrieval of specific events and details. In summary, the present study mainly emphasizes that the executive deficits in TBI are involved in the disruption of the first levels of AM generative processes that give access to the multiple episodic details recollection.

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