The nature of remote memory impairment in patients with medial temporal lobe damage is the subject of some debate. While some investigators have found that retrograde amnesia in such patients is temporally graded, with relative sparing of remote memories (Squire and Alvarez, 1995), others contend that impairment is of very long duration and that remote memories are not necessarily spared (Sanders and Warrington, 1971; Nadel and Moscovitch, 1997). In this study, remote memory was assessed in 25 patients with unilateral temporal lobe epilepsy and 22 non-neurologically impaired controls using the Autobiographical Memory Interview (Kopelman et al., 1989). Results indicate that patients have impaired personal episodic memory but intact personal semantic memory. The impairment extends even to the most remote time periods in early childhood, long before seizure onset in many patients. As well, patients awaiting temporal lobectomy for control of seizures perform as poorly as those who have already undergone resective surgery. These results support the hypothesis that temporal lobe damage or dysfunction, caused by recurrent seizures or surgical excision, results in extensive retrograde amnesia for personal episodic memories. Interestingly, patients with radiological evidence of hippocampal sclerosis were not significantly more impaired than those without obvious sclerosis. These results indicate that even minimal damage to medial temporal lobes results in significant impairment to autobiographical episodic memory. These findings are more compatible with a memory loss or retrieval deficit rather than a consolidation account of remote memory impairment.
Viskontas, I.V., McAndrews, M.P., Moscovitch, M. Remote episodic memory deficits in patients with unilateral temporal lobe epilepsy and excisions (2000) Journal of Neuroscience, 20 (15), pp. 5853-5857.