Neuroimaging studies of episodic memory retrieval have revealed activations in the human frontal, parietal, and medial-temporal lobes that are associated with memory strength. However, it remains unclear whether these brain responses are veritable signals of memory strength or are instead regulated by concomitant subcomponents of retrieval such as retrieval effort or mental search. This study used event-related fMRI during cued recall of previously memorized word-pair associates to dissociate brain responses modulated by memory search from those modulated by the strength of a recalled memory. Search-related deactivations, dissociated from activity due to memory strength, were observed in regions of the default network, whereas distinctly strength-dependent activations were present in superior and inferior parietal and dorsolateral PFC. Both search and strength regulated activity in dorsal anterior cingulate and anterior insula. These findings suggest that, although highly correlated and partially subserved by overlapping cognitive control mechanisms, search and memory strength engage dissociable regions of frontoparietal attention and default networks.

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