Right medial thalamic lesion causes isolated retrograde amnesia

Laurie A. Miller*, Diana Caine, Antony Harding, Elizabeth J. Thompson, Matthew Large, John D. G. Watson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Pervasive retrograde amnesia without anterograde memory impairment has rarely been described as a consequence of circumscribed brain damage. We report this phenomenon in a 33 yr-old, right-handed man (JG) in association with the extension in the right thalamus of a previously small, bilateral thalamic lesion. JG presented with a dense amnesia for autobiographical material more than a few years old, with some sparing of recent memories. Furthermore, he was completely unable to recognise famous people or world events. Many other aspects of semantic knowledge were intact and there was no evidence of general intellectual impairment, executive dysfunction or loss of visual imagery. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed an acute lesion in the right thalamus and two small, symmetrical, bilateral non-acute thalamic lesions. Follow-up neuropsychological assessment indicated a stable pattern of impaired retrograde and spared anterograde memory over 18 months and psychiatric assessments yielded no evidence of confabulation, malingering or other symptoms to suggest psychogenic amnesia. JG's profile indicates that the division of declarative memory into just two categories - episodic and semantic - is inadequate. Rather, his case adds to the growing body evidence to suggest that world knowledge pertaining to people and events is stored or accessed similarly to autobiographical information and differently from other types of more general factual knowledge. We hypothesize that the right mediodorsal thalamic nucleus and immediately surrounding regions comprise the central processing mechanism referred to by McClelland (Revue Neurologique, 150 (1994) 570) and Markowitsch (Brain Research Review, 21 (1995) 117) as responsible for inducing and co-ordinating the recall of these sorts of cortically stored memory engrams.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1037-1046
Number of pages10
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Autobiographical memory
  • Brain
  • Famous faces
  • Semantic memory


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