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Transient global amnesia: implicit/explicit memory dissociation and PET assessment of brain perfusion and oxygen metabolism in the acute stage.

OBJECTIVES: To assess explicit memory and two components of implicit memory--that is, perceptual-verbal skill learning and lexical-semantic priming effects--as well as resting cerebral blood flow (CBF) and oxygen metabolism (CMRO2) during the acute phase of transient global amnesia.

METHODS: In a 59 year old woman, whose amnestic episode fulfilled all current criteria for transient global amnesia, a neuropsychological protocol was administered, including word learning, story recall, categorical fluency, mirror reading, and word stem completion tasks. PET was performed using the (15)O steady state inhalation method, while the patient still exhibited severe anterograde amnesia and was interleaved with the cognitive tests.

RESULTS: There was a clear cut dissociation between impaired long term episodic memory and preserved implicit memory for its two components. Categorical fluency was significantly altered, suggesting word retrieval strategy--rather than semantic memory--impairment. The PET study disclosed a reduced CMRO2 with relatively or fully preserved CBF in the left prefrontotemporal cortex and lentiform nucleus, and the reverse pattern over the left occipital cortex.

CONCLUSIONS: The PET alterations with patchy CBF-CMRO2 uncoupling would be compatible with a migraine-like phenomenon and indicate that the isolated assessment of perfusion in transient global amnesia may be misleading. The pattern of metabolic depression, with sparing of the hippocampal area, is one among the distinct patterns of brain dysfunction that underlie the (apparently) uniform clinical presentation of transient global amnesia. The finding of a left prefrontal hypometabolism in the face of impaired episodic memory and altered verbal fluency would fit present day concepts from PET activation studies about the role of this area in episodic and semantic memory encoding/retrieval. Likewise, the changes affecting the lenticular nucleus but sparing the caudate would be consistent with the normal performance in perceptual-verbal skill learning. Finally, unaltered lexical-semantic priming effects, despite left temporal cortex hypometabolism, suggest that these processes are subserved by a more distributed neocortical network.

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