TUESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests the
short-term ability to remember bits of information involving
spatial reasoning is not jeopardized by injury to the part of the
brain that is central to memory.
The observation, which runs contrary to previous thought,
concerns what researchers refer to as "working memory," namely the
ability to remember in the short run, rather than the long
This would mean that patients should be able to retain the
ability, for example, to recall where they just put their keys even
after suffering damage to a part of the brain that researchers have
long identified as critical to memory function.
"The findings provide strong evidence for a fundamental distinction in the brain between working memory and long-term memory, even in the realm of spatial information and spatial-object associations," lead author Larry R. Squire, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
Squire, who is also a scientist at the VA San Diego Healthcare
System, reports his team's findings in the Oct. 13 issue of
The Journal of Neuroscience.
The researchers worked with four patients with damage to their
medial temporal lobes (MTL) in the cerebral cortex region of the
brain where the hippocampus is located. The MTL is linked to
long-term memory, and all the patients were categorized as
After studying object arrangements on a table, the patients were
asked to reconstruct the same arrangement on another table.
The patients had no problem doing so when only three or fewer
objects were involved, thereby only requiring short-term memory
function. But when the number of objects exceeded three, long-term
memory function kicked in, and the patients started to have
difficulty recreating the table arrangement.
"Their performance abruptly collapsed when the limit of working memory was reached," Squire said.
"It indicates that patients with memory impairment due to MTL damage, including early-stage Alzheimer's disease, have a narrower difficulty than what one might have thought," he noted. "They have an intact ability to hold information in [the] mind, and an ability to work with it on a temporary basis."
For more on memory and the brain, visit the
Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
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