Traumatic brain injury alters the relationship between brain structure and episodic memory

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Background: Focal and diffuse pathology resulting from traumatic brain injury (TBI) often disrupts brain circuitry that is critical for episodic memory, including medial temporal lobe and prefrontal regions. Prior studies have focused on unitary accounts of temporal lobe function, associating verbally learned material and brain morphology. Medial temporal lobe structures, however, are domain-sensitive, preferentially supporting different visual stimuli. There has been little consideration of whether TBI preferentially disrupts the type of visually learned material and its association with cortical morphology following injury. Here, we investigated whether (1) episodic memory deficits differ according to the stimulus type, and (2) the pattern in memory performance can be linked to changes in cortical thickness. Methods: Forty-three individuals with moderate-severe TBI and 38 demographically similar healthy controls completed a recognition task in which memory was assessed for three categories of stimuli: faces, scenes, and animals. The association between episodic memory accuracy on this task and cortical thickness was subsequently examined within and between groups. Results: Our behavioral results support the notion of category-specific impairments: the TBI group had significantly impaired accuracy for memory for faces and scenes, but not animals. Moreover, the association between cortical thickness and behavioral performance was only significant for faces between groups. Conclusion: Taken together, these behavioral and structural findings provide support for an emergent memory account, and highlight that cortical thickness differentially affects episodic memory for specific categories of stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3012
Number of pages9
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • cortical thickness
  • emergent memory account
  • episodic memory
  • MRI
  • traumatic brain injury

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