November 24, 2020

Building memories on prior knowledge: behavioral and fMRI evidence of impairment in early Alzheimer’s Disease

Impaired memory is a hallmark of prodromal Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Prior knowledge associated with the memoranda has proved to have a powerful effect on memory in healthy subjects. Yet, barely nothing is known about its effect in early AD. We used functional MRI to ask whether prior knowledge enhanced memory encoding in early AD and whether the nature of prior knowledge mattered.

Early AD patients and healthy controls underwent a task-based fMRI experiment, being scanned while learning face-scene associations. Famous faces carried Pre-Experimental Knowledge (PEK) while unknown faces repeatedly familiarized prior to learning carried Experimental Knowledge (EK). As expected, PEK increased subsequent memory in healthy elderly. However, patients did not benefit from PEK.

Partly non-overlapping brain networks supported PEK vs. EK encoding in healthy controls. Patients displayed impaired activation in a right subhippocampal region where activity predicted successful associative memory formation of PEK stimuli. These findings call for a thorough consideration of how prior knowledge impacts learning and suggest a possible underestimation of the extent of associative memory impairment in early AD.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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