The issue of whether the hippocampus and related structures in the medial-temporal lobe (MTL) play a temporary or permanent role in autobiographical episodic memory remains unresolved. One long-standing belief is that autobiographical memory (AM), like semantic memory, is initially dependent on the MTL but ultimately can be retained and recovered independently of it. However, evidence that hippocampal amnesia results in severe loss of episodic memory for a lifetime of personally experienced events suggests otherwise. To test the opposing views, we conducted detailed investigations of autobiographical episodic memory in people with amnesia resulting from MTL lesions of varying extent. By combining precise quantification of MTL and neocortical volumes with sensitive measures of recollection of one's personal past, we show that the severity of episodic, but not semantic, AM loss is best accounted for by the degree of hippocampal damage and less likely related to additional neocortical compromise.

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