David I. Donaldson, Mark E. Wheeler, Steve E. Petersen



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J Cogn Neurosci

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Event-related fMRI studies reveal that episodic memory retrieval modulates lateral and medial parietal cortices, dorsal middle frontal gyrus (MFG), and anterior PFC. These regions respond more for recognized old than correctly rejected new words, suggesting a neural correlate of retrieval success. Despite significant efforts examining retrieval success regions, their role in retrieval remains largely unknown. Here we asked the question, to what degree are the regions performing memory-specific operations? And if so, are they all equally sensitive to successful retrieval, or are other factors such as error detection also implicated? We investigated this question by testing whether activity in retrieval success regions was associated with task-specific contingencies (i.e., perceived targetness) or mnemonic relevance (e.g., retrieval of source context). To do this, we used a source memory task that required discrimination between remembered targets and remembered nontargets. For a given region, the modulation of neural activity by a situational factor such as target status would suggest a more domain-general role; similarly, modulations of activity linked to error detection would suggest a role in monitoring and control rather than the accumulation of evidence from memory per se. We found that parietal retrieval success regions exhibited greater activity for items receiving correct than incorrect source responses, whereas frontal retrieval success regions were most active on error trials, suggesting that posterior regions signal successful retrieval whereas frontal regions monitor retrieval outcome. In addition, perceived targetness failed to modulate fMRI activity in any retrieval success region, suggesting that these regions are retrieval specific. We discuss the different functions that these regions may support and propose an accumulator model that captures the different pattern of responses seen in frontal and parietal retrieval success regions.