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      The Pivotal Role of Semantic Memory in Remembering the Past and Imagining the Future

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          Abstract

          Episodic memory refers to a complex and multifaceted process which enables the retrieval of richly detailed evocative memories from the past. In contrast, semantic memory is conceptualized as the retrieval of general conceptual knowledge divested of a specific spatiotemporal context. The neural substrates of the episodic and semantic memory systems have been dissociated in healthy individuals during functional imaging studies, and in clinical cohorts, leading to the prevailing view that episodic and semantic memory represent functionally distinct systems subtended by discrete neurobiological substrates. Importantly, however, converging evidence focusing on widespread neural networks now points to significant overlap between those regions essential for retrieval of autobiographical memories, episodic learning, and semantic processing. Here we review recent advances in episodic memory research focusing on neurodegenerative populations which has proved revelatory for our understanding of the complex interplay between episodic and semantic memory. Whereas episodic memory research has traditionally focused on retrieval of autobiographical events from the past, we also include evidence from the recent paradigm shift in which episodic memory is viewed as an adaptive and constructive process which facilitates the imagining of possible events in the future. We examine the available evidence which converges to highlight the pivotal role of semantic memory in providing schemas and meaning whether one is engaged in autobiographical retrieval for the past, or indeed, is endeavoring to construct a plausible scenario of an event in the future. It therefore seems plausible to contend that semantic processing may underlie most, if not all, forms of episodic memory, irrespective of temporal condition.

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          Most cited references 96

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          Episodic memory: from mind to brain.

           Endel Tulving (2002)
          Episodic memory is a neurocognitive (brain/mind) system, uniquely different from other memory systems, that enables human beings to remember past experiences. The notion of episodic memory was first proposed some 30 years ago. At that time it was defined in terms of materials and tasks. It was subsequently refined and elaborated in terms of ideas such as self, subjective time, and autonoetic consciousness. This chapter provides a brief history of the concept of episodic memory, describes how it has changed (indeed greatly changed) since its inception, considers criticisms of it, and then discusses supporting evidence provided by (a) neuropsychological studies of patterns of memory impairment caused by brain damage, and (b) functional neuroimaging studies of patterns of brain activity of normal subjects engaged in various memory tasks. I also suggest that episodic memory is a true, even if as yet generally unappreciated, marvel of nature.
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            Remembering the past to imagine the future: the prospective brain.

            A rapidly growing number of recent studies show that imagining the future depends on much of the same neural machinery that is needed for remembering the past. These findings have led to the concept of the prospective brain; an idea that a crucial function of the brain is to use stored information to imagine, simulate and predict possible future events. We suggest that processes such as memory can be productively re-conceptualized in light of this idea.
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              Remembering the past and imagining the future: common and distinct neural substrates during event construction and elaboration.

              People can consciously re-experience past events and pre-experience possible future events. This fMRI study examined the neural regions mediating the construction and elaboration of past and future events. Participants were cued with a noun for 20s and instructed to construct a past or future event within a specified time period (week, year, 5-20 years). Once participants had the event in mind, they made a button press and for the remainder of the 20s elaborated on the event. Importantly, all events generated were episodic and did not differ on a number of phenomenological qualities (detail, emotionality, personal significance, field/observer perspective). Conjunction analyses indicated the left hippocampus was commonly engaged by past and future event construction, along with posterior visuospatial regions, but considerable neural differentiation was also observed during the construction phase. Future events recruited regions involved in prospective thinking and generation processes, specifically right frontopolar cortex and left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, respectively. Furthermore, future event construction uniquely engaged the right hippocampus, possibly as a response to the novelty of these events. In contrast to the construction phase, elaboration was characterized by remarkable overlap in regions comprising the autobiographical memory retrieval network, attributable to the common processes engaged during elaboration, including self-referential processing, contextual and episodic imagery. This striking neural overlap is consistent with findings that amnesic patients exhibit deficits in both past and future thinking, and confirms that the episodic system contributes importantly to imagining the future.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Front Behav Neurosci
                Front Behav Neurosci
                Front. Behav. Neurosci.
                Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                1662-5153
                03 April 2013
                2013
                : 7
                Affiliations
                1School of Psychology, University of New South Wales Sydney, NSW, Australia
                2Neuroscience Research Australia Randwick, NSW, Australia
                3Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders Sydney, NSW, Australia
                4School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales Sydney, NSW, Australia
                Author notes

                Edited by: Angelica Staniloiu, University of Bielefeld, Germany

                Reviewed by: Karl Szpunar, Harvard University, USA; Anna Abraham, Kuwait University, Kuwait

                *Correspondence: Muireann Irish, Neuroscience Research Australia, Barker Street, Randwick, Sydney, NSW 2031, Australia. e-mail: m.irish@ 123456neura.edu.au
                Article
                10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00027
                3615221
                23565081
                Copyright © 2013 Irish and Piguet.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

                Page count
                Figures: 3, Tables: 1, Equations: 0, References: 113, Pages: 11, Words: 10717
                Categories
                Neuroscience
                Review Article

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