Alteration of autobiographical memory in amnestic mild cognitive impairment

Eve Tramoni, Olivier Felician, Lejla Koric, Michele Balzamo, Sven Joubert, Mathieu Ceccaldi
Cortex; a Journal Devoted to the Study of the Nervous System and Behavior 2012, 48 (10): 1310-9
The concept of amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) concerns a population of older individuals at high risk of developing probable Alzheimer's disease. Although anterograde memory deficits have been largely documented in patients with aMCI, little is known about the integrity of their autobiographical memory (AuM). This study aimed at evaluating AuM in aMCI individuals and at investigating whether their ability to retrieve AuMs varied as a function of whether the tests used required recognition or effortful retrieval processes. Fourteen aMCI patients and 14 matched controls underwent a standard neuropsychological evaluation and an extensive autobiographical assessment. AuM was explored using verbal material, the Autobiographical Memory Interview, and a visual task of personal photographs. Together, these tests tapped the semantic and episodic components of AuM and different cognitive processes involved in retrieval (recall and recognition). Results indicate that AuM is altered in aMCI patients. This impairment affects both episodic and semantic components of AuM, and is characterized by a general difficulty in recollecting personal episodes covering the entire lifespan, along with a loss of recognition of recently experienced episodes. Furthermore, recollection of personal episodes was correlated with scores on tests requiring retrieval abilities, while recognition of familiar photographs was correlated with scores on tests assessing encoding/storage of new information. Results suggest that the AuM deficit in aMCI patients may result from the combination of two mechanisms, an anterograde memory impairment impeding the storage of newly experienced events, and a global alteration of recollection affecting the recall of AuM covering all periods of life. Alteration of these processes may possibly be related to the progression and distribution of the neuropathological lesions in medial temporal and frontal lobe structures found in Alzheimer's disease.

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