The many faces of amnesia

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93 Scopus citations


Results from studies of retrograde amnesia provide much of the evidence for theories of memory consolidation. Retrograde amnesia gradients are often interpreted as revealing the time needed for the formation of long-term memories. The rapid forgetting observed after many amnestic treatments, including protein synthesis inhibitors, and the parallel decay seen in long-term potentiation experiments are presumed to reveal the duration of short-term memory processing. However, there is clear and consistent evidence that the time courses obtained in these amnesia experiments are highly variable within and across experiments and treatments. The evidence is inconsistent with identification of basic temporal properties of memory consolidation. Alternative views include modulation of memory and emphasize the roles that hormones and neurotransmitters have in regulating memory formation. Of related interest, converging lines of evidence suggest that inhibitors of protein synthesis and of other biochemical processes act on modulators of memory formation rather than on mechanisms of memory formation. Based on these findings, memory consolidation and reconsolidation studies might better be identified as memory modulation and "remodulation" studies. Beyond a missing and perhaps unattainable time constant of memory consolidation, some current views of memory consolidation assume that memories, once formed, are generally unmodifiable. It is this perspective that appears to have led to the recent interest in memory reconsolidation. But the view adopted here is that memories are continually malleable, being updated by new experiences and, at the same time, altering the memories of later experiences. Studies of memory remodulation offer promise of understanding the neurobiological bases by which new memories are altered by prior experiences and by which old memories are altered by new experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)506-514
Number of pages9
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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